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Contaminated Soils Found At School

Whilst undertaking a £3.3 million renovation, Grove Primary School in Totnes, South Devon, found contaminated soil on the site.

Originally built on the site of an old gas works, this discovery highlights the importance of thorough contaminated land studies for educational facilities.

The Primary School was forced to close to students when contractors found the school was above a former gas holder (gasometer) and that the perched groundwater was closer to the surface than previously identified by the surveyors. Subsequent site investigations undertaken confirmed traces of associated toxic contaminants, including lead, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene (a carcinogenic product of coal tar), across the site as well as at the location of the former gas holder, which was most likely used as a ready-made landfill for waste materials during its deconstruction.

A historic gas works, then gas holder station, was noted to have been present on the Grove Primary School site between 1889 to the early 1980s. During this time, the site would have been used to produce town gas. The resulting byproducts from this process are now known to be highly contaminating.

The contractors have worked with the Environment Agency and South Hams Environmental Health Department to agree on the best remediation approach, and children were not present on the site until all contamination was removed.

agb Environmental would like to remind clients that discovering contamination late into the development process can not only mean costly remediation but also put site users and workers at risk. In this case, a Phase 1 Contaminated Land Desk Study would have identified the risks, allowing site investigations and appropriate project planning to take place from the outset.

Alex Brearley, Managing Director for agb Environmental said: “This is an all too common case of contaminated land not being considered from the outset. More than just a planning consideration, Contaminated Land (along with other issues, such as ecology) can have a significant bearing on the progress and cost of a development project. A simple Phase 1 Contaminated Land Desk Study is a very cost effective way of understanding this risk.”

For further information and to arrange a consultation please contact Alex Brearley on 01638 663226 or email

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