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11 Jun 2020

Reframing remediation – National Remediation Framework launched

By Nick Thomas, Rachelle Wilson, and Xara Kaye

Stakeholders involved in remediation of contaminated land now have a national reference point for planning, carrying out and validating remediation work, with the launch of the National Remediation Framework.

The National Remediation Framework was launched on 3 June 2020. It was welcomed by regulators, as well as site owner, manager, auditor and consultant representatives, as Australia’s first nationally consistent framework for planning, carrying out and validating the remediation of contaminated land.

What does the Remediation Framework do?

In accordance with its stated purposes, the Remediation Framework:

  • establishes a nationally consistent approach to remediating and managing contaminated sites;
  • establishes a common and consistent approach to deciding whether remediation is or is not required, and what remediation needs to achieve;
  • provides practical guidance for those who remediate and manage contaminated sites; and
  • creates a tool for educating and informing government, industry and the community about the issues relating to remediation and contaminated site management.

The Remediation Framework also codifies current remediation and contamination management practices in Australia.

It was endorsed by Australia’s Heads of EPA forum as representing "best practice" in remediation and contaminated site management in November 2019.

The Remediation Framework is not a statutory document, but it complements the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure, which is made under Commonwealth and State legislation and has become the benchmark for contamination assessment.

The Remediation Framework authors see this as an advantage for the Remediation Framework, because it can be driven by a spectrum of stakeholders instead of only government, and it can be revised without the need to amend legislation.

How was the Remediation Framework developed?

The Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC Care) developed the Remediation Framework over a period of about 9 years, with input from the National Remediation Framework Steering Group comprising representatives of government (including the heads of all State EPAs), site owners, industrial operators, the construction sector, and contamination site auditors and consultants and the community. The process involved extensive public and targeted stakeholder consultation.

How is the Remediation Framework structured?

The Remediation Framework is based on several key principles, such as sustainability, risk management and waste minimisation. It comprises an introductory document and 24 topic-specific guidelines. The guidelines are intended to be modular, so that each can be updated more easily as required, without having to amend the others.

The guideline structure aligns with the familiar staged remediation process, as follows:

Remediation action plan development

Relevant Guidelines include

  • Regulatory considerations
  • Establishing remediation objectives
  • Performing remediation options assessment
  • Technology guides – soil and groundwater
  • Cost benefit and sustainability analysis of remediation alternatives

Remediation action plan implementation

Relevant Guidelines include

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Health and safety Documentation, record keeping and reporting

Post-remediation considerations

Relevant Guidelines include

Validation and closure

Role of auditing

Implementing long-term monitoring Implementing institutional controls

The Remediation Framework also provides a flowchart to direct stakeholders through the remediation process.

What it does not cover

The Remediation Framework does not address specific contaminants. Consequently, significant emerging categories of contamination are not explicitly considered, such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), abandoned mine sites, bio hazards, radioactive substances and unexploded ordinance. However, the Remediation Framework toolbox provides links to external guidance in relation to these and other relevant matters.

Remediation Framework benefits

While every remediation or site contamination management project is different, the key benefits of the Remediation Framework, if adopted nationally as intended, will be:

  • nationwide consistency in the decision-making process for whether remediation is required and, if so, what form it should take (including streamlined terminology to make documents simpler and easier to understand);
  • greater predictability in remediation requirements for particular sites, which should give project proponents and transacting parties greater confidence in dealing with contaminated sites;
  • a risk-based approach to remediation and site management, which should lead to more efficient and effective outcomes;
  • systematisation of practices in remediation and site management, which should make these activities more efficient and effective and should reduce the risk of disputes; and
  • a focus on sustainable outcomes for remediation and site management.

The CRC CARE has said that the Remediation Framework is completely scalable, so it can be used for small or large remediation tasks.

If, as expected, the Remediation Framework becomes the national benchmark for remediation and contaminated site management, it could be adopted:

  • in contracts, to simplify negotiations and reduce the risk of inconsistent interpretations in contractual remediation and site management activities; and
  • in statutory approvals (including statutory remediation plans), so that regulators and applicants know in advance what remediation and site management decision making processes and practices will be required and endorsed.

Remediation Framework limitations

The biggest challenge for the Remediation Framework is finding a long-term home for it. We understand the Remediation Framework has only been funded until 2020, so it is not clear whether, and, if so, how, the Remediation Framework will be maintained after that. This is particularly important if the Remediation Framework is to continue to reflect “best practice”.

What’s next?

The Remediation Framework provides a quantum leap in the approach to remediation and contamination management across Australia. The fact that it is supported by regulators nationally, and apparently key stakeholder groups positions it well for adoption as the new standard.

The biggest challenge is to find a long-term manager for the Remediation Framework, so that it retains its value in the months and years to come.

If you would like to know more about the Remediation Framework, or to apply it in practice, please get in touch.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.