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Contaminants in Soil

Image for the Contaminants in Soil page.
This page contains information about the National Environmental Standard (NES) for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health.
Updated: 16/02/2016 9:20 a.m.

​Ensuring land is safe for human use

The National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NESCS) came into effect in January 2012. They provide a nationally consistent set of planning controls and soil contaminant values to ensure that land affected by contaminants in soil is appropriately identified and assessed before it is developed.

If necessary work is done to eliminate the contaminants, or the contaminants are contained, to make the land safe for human use. All territorial authorities (district and city councils) are required to give effect to, and enforce the requirements, of the NES.  


The past use of chemicals (hazardous substances) industry, agriculture and horticulture has left a legacy of soil contamination in New Zealand. This contamination is mainly caused by past practices including storage and use of hazardous substances, and disposal of hazardous wastes.

These contaminants are a problem when the hazardous substances are at a concentration and a place where they have, or are reasonably likely to have, an adverse effect on human health and the environment. Contaminants are a greater problem in environments where soil will be exposed or disturbed in close proximity to buildings, people, water bodies and important habitats.

Prior to the NESCS, the controls applied by councils to manage contaminated soils were not consistent across the country. The NESCS means all councils now follow the same planning and decision-making framework.

The Ministry of Environment website further explains why the NES is needed.

Ministry for the Environment

Changes to land use

The NES controls changes to the use of land:

  • Where the use might introduce a risk to the health of people using the land, or
  • Where activities such as subdivision and earthworks are intended to be undertaken on sites where it is likely that past uses have contaminated the soil.

The NES does not affect existing land uses.

What the NES requires

You will need to comply with the NES if you wish to undertake any of the following activities:

  • Any subdivision
  • Change of land use (which includes building a house on a vacant site)
  • Any earthworks or soil disturbance
  • Sampling of soils (such as drilling or trenching for geotechnical investigations)
  • Removing fuel storage systems (generally for service stations and fuel depots).

Investigating your site

If you intend to undertake any of these activities the first thing you need to do is determine whether the land is or has been used for an activity that might have caused contamination of the soil.

The NES has a list of activities that is called the Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL). If any one or more of the activities on the HAIL is or has been carried out on your piece of land, then the NES applies.

To find out whether any HAIL activity is or has been carried out on your piece of land, you can either

  • Undertake a search of Council's records, or;
  • Get a Suitably Qualified and Experienced Person to carry out a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI).

You can apply for a search of Council's records under the NES using the Site Search for Potential Contaminants forms below. Once an application is received by Customer Services, staff will review a number of possible information sources, such as dangerous goods records, aerial photos, and technical reports that relate to the property, to see if there is any evidence of a HAIL activity having been on the land. The cost of a search is listed in Councils Fees and Charges Schedule.

The results of either the Council's records search or the PSI will determine whether the NES provisions apply. If it is found that there is or has been a HAIL activity on the piece of land, it is suggested you seek further advice from Council staff as to what is then required.

Site Search for Potential Contaminants [82kb]

The NES and Building/Resource Consents

If you are looking to lodge a resource or building consent for an activity, it is important that you investigate the requirements of the NES before you lodge your application to avoid any possible additional cost or delay.

It is important to note that the NES may apply even if your proposed activity does not require a building or resource consent. However, if you have already had a consent for the activity before 1st January 2012 you can carry on with your consented activity without addressing the NES requirements. 

Further information 

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) website contains more details for landowners and developers and helpful information about the regulations. The MfE list of activities that are considered to contaminate the soil can be downloaded by following the link below.  


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