In BC, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) Land Remediation Section regulates the identification and remediation of contaminated sites through the Environmental Management Act (EMA), Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR), and Hazardous Waste Regulation (HWR). Generally speaking, environmental quality standards have been established for different site specific land uses (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial) by the BC MOE. A contaminated site is defined as an area of land in which the soil, soil vapour, groundwater or sediment contains a hazardous waste or substance in concentrations that exceed provincial environmental quality standards. A site is considered contaminated if it is unsuitable for a specific current or future land, water and sediment use.

What is a Brownfield Site?

A Brownfield site is defined as; a real property, where the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.
Credit: (US Environmental Protection Agency)

The definition indicates that a Brownfield site may have the “potential presence” of contamination, which can be perceived by stakeholders as a deterrent to redevelopment. Regardless of actual or potential presence of contamination, Brownfield sites can be complicated with issues involving regulatory challenges, legal liabilities and obligations, and remediation costs related to contamination.

What is the Process?

The information presented is a high level synthesis of referenced MOE guidance, procedures and protocols that may apply to brownfield redevelopment sites. Here are step-by-step instructions to walk you through what to do with contaminated and suspect sites.

Check the Site Registry

The Site Registry has a list of all known contaminated sites as well as those currently being investigated. If your property is already listed, it may require little, if any, cleanup, or have already been cleaned up to regulatory standards.

Find an Expert

The best thing you can do before rolling up your sleeves is to get an experienced environmental site assessor onboard. A select list can be found in the BCEIA Member Directory.

Do Your Research

The more you know, the better. Here are some background information tools to help you get started. They can assist you with:

  • Maps
  • EcoLog ERIS Database Search
  • Air/Aerial Photographs
  • Fire Insurance Maps
  • Historical Topographic Maps
  • Land Titles
  • City Directories
  • Municipal Websites and Archives
  • Site Registry
Know The Law

If you are the owner of a brownfield site, you may still be required to send a Site Profile (environmental screening form). Check out this BC Ministry of Environment Fact Sheet for more information.

Liability in BC is based on the “polluter-pays principle” (i.e. those who cause contamination should be responsible for the cleanup). The BC Ministry of Environment Fact Sheet provides an overview of responsibilities and costs.

It also provides a list of who may be considered responsible for the cleanup.

Know Your Responsibilities

Consult this process guide to find out the roles and responsibilities for each of the parties involved.

A “Responsible Person” under the Environmental Management Act includes the previous owner or operator of a property and producer or transporter of a substance that caused contamination.

Responsible Persons are:

  • Absolutely liable (can’t use due diligence as a defence);
  • Retroactively liable (responsible for contamination that has occurred in the past from the operations of the responsible person); and
  • Joint and several liable (will be required to pay for the entire remediation if other parties involved can’t or won’t).

Someone who “innocently acquired” a contaminated site may not be held responsible for the cleanup provided they can show that:

  • the site was already contaminated;
  • he or she had no way of knowing or suspecting that the site was contaminated; and
  • he or she made all appropriate inquiries of previous ownership and uses of the site

Get Financial Assistance

Remediation can be costly, but help is available. This roadmap document can guide you to legislation and funding programs.

Also, the Province’s Brownfield Renewal Strategy has released a document titled A Community Resource Guide for Brownfields Redevelopment: Project Funding.

The Brownfield Renewal Strategy’s own funding program can be accessed through its website.

Look to your Local Government

Help is also available through tax breaks. Be sure to review the Province’s Brownfield Guide for Local Governments. Here you will find out if you can exempt your property from municipal property value taxes under Section 226 of the Community Charter in the Primer.

Talk to the Bank

Jamie Evans, Senior Manager Environmental Risk for RBC, prepared this backgrounder for the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN) which discusses the typical process for financing contaminated sites. Jamie also provides a few tips and deal-breakers.

Review Case Studies

These case studies will illustrate how similar cases have been handled in the past.

Details about two former service stations are in this Provincial document: A Community Resource Guide For Brownfields Redevelopment: Case Studies.

A comprehensive summary report of a two-day conference about a pilot charette in Nanaimo is also available. The charette highlighted the importance of input, collaboration, and partnerships among stakeholders (local government, provincial government, community-based associations, and the petroleum, environmental consulting, and development industries).

Helpful Tools

Here is a list of many useful resources, such as templates, charts and documents, which will be useful for you when working on a brownfield project.

You can also obtain information by contacting the appropriate
Oil and Gas Company, Provincial Brownfield Representatives or contact us.

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