Land Contamination

Contamination is defined as the introduction of a substance into the land, soil or water, so that their quality and function are adversely affected. Here, the term contamination refers to chemical substances that impact land quality and use.

Chemicals of concern:

  • Agricultural waste
  • Human waste
  • Industrial waste
  • Metals (e.g. lead, mercury)
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons (e.g. oil and gas drilling waste)
  • Salts
  • Soil-acidifying chemicals (e.g. sulphur)

Adverse environmental impacts caused by chemical substances can be very difficult or even impossible to remedy. Hydrocarbons can be removed thermally or through bioremediation; effects of sulfur can be remediated by neutralization; salts can be removed by washing; and pesticides can be removed by deactivation or bioremediation. In most cases, substances are only partially removed unless extreme and expensive removal efforts are used.

Some substances have a direct toxic effect on essential life processes of plants and soil organisms. Chlorides found in road salt or salt water produced during oil and gas production are toxic to plants and organisms. Salt and hydrocarbons can also create water deficits by limiting water movement through soil, and uptake by plants and organisms.

Release, disposal, and remediation standards for contaminants on land are regulated by several government departments in Alberta:

  • Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
  • Alberta Environment and Parks
  • Alberta Energy Regulator
  • Alberta Utilities Commission
  • Natural Resources Conservation Board (for confined feeding operations)

Environment Canada coordinates a National Pollutant Release Inventory with detailed information on selected substances released into Canada's environment.


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Updated: Aug 28, 2015