One of Sweden's national environmental quality objectives is A Non-Toxic Environment. SGU plays an active role in efforts to achieve this environmental quality objective through its responsibility for implementing surveys and measures in contaminated areas.
Activities that have caused environmental pollution have been conducted in Sweden for a very long time. For this reason, there is a large number of contaminated areas that risk harming the environment and human health. Central government has also engaged in polluting activities, both in an authority and a company capacity.
There are about 80,000 potentially or confirmed contaminated areas in Sweden. Approximately 1,300 of these are assessed to entail very great risks to human health or the environment and probably require measures. The work to investigate and remediate contaminated areas has been intensified, but the pace of decontamination needs to increase further.
The Swedish Parliament has drawn up the guidelines for the future work to remediate contaminated areas through its adoption of the environmental quality objective A Non-Toxic Environment.
Responsibility for contaminated areas
The responsibility for contaminated areas is regulated in Chapter 10 of the Swedish Environmental Code. In order for a remediation responsibility to exist, the Swedish Environmental Code requires pollution to be confirmed and for it to risk resulting in harm to human health or the environment.
It is the operator who is primarily responsible for remediation. The operator is regarded as the one who has engaged in environmentally hazardous activities as defined in Chapter 9, Section 1 of the Swedish Environmental Code, or has taken a measure that has caused damage or detriment pursuant to Chapter 2, Section 8. The actual operation must have been in progress after 30 June 1969 and its effects still existed when the Swedish Environmental Code entered into force on 1 January 1999. If the operator is not able to carry out or pay for remediation, a secondary responsibility may under certain conditions fall on a property owner who acquired a property after the Swedish Environmental Code entered into force.
The person liable should, to the extent reasonable, carry out or pay for the measures necessary to prevent, hinder or counteract damage or detriment arising to human health or the environment. If there are several operators, remediation responsibility is shared.
SGU's work with contaminated areas
From its work to decommission the old emergency oil stockpiles – where SGU was responsible for the entire chain of surveying, licensing, contract work and control programmes – SGU has accumulated unique experience in the remediation area.
SGU also collaborates with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency in the remediation of contaminated areas for which there is no liable operator under the Swedish Environmental Code. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is the central authority for the national coordination of efforts to remediate contaminated areas in Sweden.
Since 2010, SGU has served as the body responsible for investigations and measures regarding contaminated areas where a central government actor that no longer exists was the operator. Upon the request of a municipality, we are also able to assume responsibility for other projects if the municipality is not deemed to have the prerequisites to undertake decontamination.
Last reviewed 2022-02-22