Q&A Can we be held responsible for old contamination on site we have bought?

Q:      I own a small industrial unit on a site that used to be a farm. There are four more units, all in old farm buildings and owned and occupied by small businesspeople like me. Out of the blue we have each received notification from the Environment Agency that they have reason to believe the site may be contaminated and that we, as “appropriate persons”, will be responsible for the removal of the contaminated material, if this is found to be the case. Can we really be held responsible for contamination that occurred before we bought into the site and foot the bill for removing it?

A:       Firstly, “appropriate persons” fall into two categories - Class A persons who are the persons who caused the pollution in, on or under the land; and Class B persons, who are the current owners or occupiers of the contaminated site and to whom the responsibility falls if the Class A persons cannot be located. Whilst this may seem unfair, it is the law that someone must be held responsible, and the authorities have the power to remediate the land themselves and seek to recover the cost for doing so from the “appropriate persons”.

Under Part 2A of the EPA pollution prevention Act of 1990, it is an offence to fail with any requirements of a remediation notice, without reasonable excuse. Such failure is likely to attract prosecution resulting in a substantial fine, extensive costs and a criminal record.

Contamination on old farm sites is very common, often stemming from the spillage of red diesel, burning of agricultural waste, and use of pesticides and asbestos. It is essential to find out the basis of the authority’s grounds for investigation and ensure that testing is carried out correctly. It would also be advantageous for you as a group to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

This question has been answered by Euros Jones, a Partner with GHP Legal.  If you would like to speak to someone about this or any other legal matter it is still possible, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we continue to offer our high levels of service to our clients.  Where possible, we ask that you communicate with us by phone or email. If you have a new enquiry or for an appointment visit www.ghplegal.com or contact one of our offices: Wrexham 01978 291456, Llangollen 01978 860313, Oswestry 01691 659194 

Euros Jones

Euros Jones


A Partner and Joint Head of our Criminal Law team in Wrexham