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CLEANUP AUTHORITY SHOULD BE NATIONAL

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LONDON-U.K. government proposals to make local authorities responsible for the cleanup of contaminated land pose the possibility that in many cases no cleanup at all will get done, risk managers warn.

The Assn. of Insurance & Risk Managers, which represents more than 750 U.K. risk managers from more than 150 companies, said last week that powers should be invested instead in the recently created Environment Agency (BI, Oct. 2, 1995).

Responding to Department of the Environment's draft legislation on contaminated land, which would require that policing and enforcement for much of the cleanup be done at a local government level, AIRMIC warns that the proposals risk creating delays and causing additional damage due to red tape.

"Legal wrangling, confusing legislation and the lack of funds and expertise at local authority level would combine to overload the proposed cleanup system," AIRMIC said in a statement.

Instead, powers over the control of contaminated land should be enforced at a national level through the Environment Agency. "These would be in excess of the powers currently available to local authorities," said AIRMIC Executive Director Ina Barker.

Bill Sulman, chairman of ALARM, the U.K. association of local authority risk managers, endorsed AIRMIC's views.

"At the end of the day, local authorities will have a pretty large burden to bear with no resources and no funding," he said.

Even if these problems could be overcome-and Mr. Sulman said there is nothing in the planned legislation that promises additional funding-there is the additional problem that local authorities lack the expertise to identify and deal with land contamination, he said.

Coordinating cleanup efforts through the Environment Agency would "reduce ambiguity and enforce cleanup with a minimum of dispute" while providing a consistent nationwide approach, Ms. Barker said.

Local authorities can play a part, but this should be limited to identifying contaminated land, said AIRMIC. However, Mr. Sulman said they do not have the expertise even to do this.

AIRMIC also is concerned that ambiguities in the government's draft legislation regarding such issues as interpretation, responsibilities and liabilities would lead to confusion and inefficiencies in enforcing cleanup. This, in turn, would result in litigation to clarify the matters, with the resulting legal costs reducing funds available for cleanup operations, as has resulted from the U.S. Superfund program, it said.

"We strongly believe that due to the confusion and risk of litigation, there is a real danger, in many cases, that no action will be taken to clean up contaminated land," Ms. Barker concluded.