Investigating sites

Regulations and requirements

The Environmental Management Act (EMA) is the main law governing contaminated sites in the province.

EMA lays out the framework and requirements for:

  • Site identification
  • Investigation
  • Remediation

Further provisions are defined in the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR).

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy administers the legal requirements defined in the EMA and the CSR. The ministry provides information to the public on these requirements.

The information below summarizes site investigation:

  • Why it's necessary
  • When it's required
  • Who's responsible for it
  • How it's done

Site investigation 

Site investigation is the process of gathering detailed information about potentially contaminated sites.

Landowners can undertake a site investigation without regulatory oversight, but it should be carried out by an experienced, qualified professional.

Site investigations can be done in stages:

  1. Preliminary site investigation
    • Stage 1
      • Involves searching existing records for information about a site
      • Interviewing people who are or have been involved with the site
      • Determining the potential areas of concern and the associated potential contaminants of concern
    • Stage 2
      • Involves field investigation to confirm if contamination is present
      • Determines the general location and degree of the contamination
      • If the preliminary site investigation did not identify any contamination on a site with historical or current specified industrial and commercial uses, a person may apply for a determination that it's not contaminated.
      • Learn more about preliminary site investigation
  2. Detailed site investigation
    • When full information is required, investigators work to determine the location, extent, and impact of the identified areas of concern and associated contaminants of concern to fully assess the contamination
    • Information from this phase is usually sufficient to develop a remediation plan or a human health/ecological risk assessment
    • Learn more about detailed site investigation 

These investigations are compared with environmental quality standards in the Contaminated Sites Regulation, known as the 'measuring sticks' against which the presence of contamination is determined.

It's necessary to investigate potentially contaminated sites because contaminants may pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Their potential effects on humans range from minor physical symptoms to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer. Children are often most at risk from exposure to contaminated soil, air, water and food.

Even if a site does not pose a threat to people, it can still be an environmental hazard. Soil, water and sediment at a site may contain substances that can injure fish or mammals, impair the reproduction of birds and accumulate in the food web.

These effects can be severe enough to impair or cause imbalance in ecological functions or systems.

Under the legislation, the Director of Waste Management can order a site investigation or a site investigation may be required when prompted by a Site Disclosure Statement. A Site Disclosure Statement summarizes information about potentially contaminated sites, including a basic description of the site and an overview of its past and present uses.

In most cases, submission of a Site Disclosure Statement triggers requirements in the EMA and the CSR to complete site investigations. Only properties with a history of specified industrial and commercial uses are subject to these requirements. Schedule 2 of the CSR provides a list of regulated industrial and commercial uses that have the potential to cause contamination at a property.

The CSR also specifies timelines for completing site investigations, prescribes when reports must be submitted to the ministry and allows for exemptions from the site investigation requirements. Review Division 6 of the CSR for further information about on-site investigations.

Learn more about site identification and how to apply for contaminated sites services.

Contaminated sites are assessed to determine the level of risk. The classification of contaminated sites in B.C. is assessed pursuant to Protocol 12: Site Risk Classification, Reclassification and Reporting (Revised) (PDF, 737KB).

Learn more about site risk classification.

If during any stage of investigation or independent remediation it's determined that one or more substances have migrated, or there's reason to believe substances have migrated to a neighbouring parcel and are causing (or are likely causing) contamination of that parcel, certain requirements are activated.

Learn more about contaminant migration.

Those responsible for causing contamination are classified as 'responsible persons' and are considered to have responsibility for investigation and remediation.

Responsible persons can include:

  • A current owner or operator of a site
  • A previous owner or operator of a site
  • A producer or transporter of a substance that caused contamination
  • Any of the above if a site was contaminated by a substance migrating from an adjacent site

The general principles of liability for investigation and remediation are found in EMA Section 47.

For more information on liability for a specific situation, seek advice from a lawyer familiar with contaminated sites legal provisions currently in effect in B.C.

This section provides information on how to do site investigations within the B.C. regulatory framework. The ministry has developed protocols and guidance related to how to conduct site investigations.

Protocols are technical and administrative procedures that are legally required under EMA. Guidance documents provide ministry expectations for undertaking the various aspects of site investigation.

Applicants must follow the legislation and protocols to successfully remediate a contaminated site. The ministry offers resources, guidance and policies.

Protocols relevant to site investigation

Determining applicable standards

Protocols 2, 4, 9, 10, 21 and 27 provide procedures and requirements for how to establish applicable standards during a site investigation:

Investigating specific media and substances

Protocols 14, 16 and 22 provide procedures and requirements for site investigation of specific media and substances:

Site investigation technical guidance

Technical guidance on site investigation provides information and ministry expectations for conducting the various stages of site investigation.

PSI and DSI general guidance

Technical guidance documents 10 and 11 provide general details and checklists related to preliminary and detailed site investigations:

Investigation by media type

Technical guidance documents 1, 2, 4 and 8 provide information and ministry expectations for the investigation of soil, groundwater and vapour:




Supplemental guidance

Supplemental guidance is presented in Technical Guidance Document 12, which provides information and ministry expectations for statistical treatment of data collected from all media:


The information on this web page does not replace the legislative requirements in the EMA or its regulations and it does not list all provisions for contaminated site services.

If there are differences between this information and the Act, Regulation, or Protocols, the Act, Regulation, and Protocols apply.