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EuropeProtecting health through the urban redevelopment of contaminated sites

Protecting health through the urban redevelopment of contaminated sites

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Abandoned coke plant in Zeebrugge2C Belgium Protecting health through the urban redevelopment of contaminated sites

Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM)

Abandoned coke plant in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Industrial use, waste disposal, the increased use of chemicals and hazardous substances, and poor environmental management during past decades have left a legacy of contaminated sites across the WHO European Region. In the European Union alone, it is estimated that there are 2.8 million sites with potential contamination, and only some of these are formally registered and have their environmental and health consequences assessed. The potential health impacts of contaminated sites include increased prevalence of cancer, congenital anomalies and low birth weights in populations, as well as higher mortality rates.

For historical reasons, many contaminated sites are situated in or close to densely populated urban areas, increasing the potential impact of the contamination on nearby populations. Revitalizing and remediating these sites therefore not only addresses environment and health issues of contamination, but also provides opportunities for urban development.

“The legacy of contaminated sites is an ignored and underestimated health challenge, and rightfully established as one of the priority themes of the Ostrava Declaration on Environment and Health,” notes Sinaia Netanyahu, Programme Manager on Environment and Health Impact Assessment at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health. “It is still unknown how many of these sites exist throughout the WHO European Region and we have just a rough understanding of the associated health impacts. Cleaning up these sites and making the land available for healthy and sustainable urban development is therefore a key challenge – especially for cities and regions with an intense industrial history.”

The redevelopment of contaminated sites entails various challenges and may cause continued or new environmental and health consequences if contamination risks are not properly managed and/or contaminated sites are not remediated. Summarizing the key messages of an expert consultation on redeveloping contaminated sites for new urban functions, a new WHO/Europe planning brief launched today presents:

  • how health and environmental impacts can be considered during redevelopment;
  • an overview of the project stages that need to be coordinated, from identification of a potential contaminated site to the redevelopment of the site; and
  • useful planning practices for public authorities to support the effective, healthy and sustainable redevelopment of contaminated sites.

These key messages are of interest to national and local governments, decision-makers on environment and health, urban planners and practitioners, researchers, and civil society organizations working together for the remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites across the Region, making our communities safer.

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