Remediation and Brownfield Investments Conference Summary

May 14-15, 2019

The conference hosted altogether 22 Hungarian and international presentations, as well as a field trip to a brownfield investment in the capital. Its goal was to spread good practices and promote international relations.

Dr Miklós Bulla, the secretary-general of the Hungarian National Council for the Environment, delivered the opening speech. He discussed the past of remediation in Hungary, which goes back to the withdrawal of Soviet troops. A central remediation fund was established, and preliminary hydrogeological, pedological and ecological examinations were carried out. Based on that, the remediation would have required a 4,000 billion HUF budget back then, which would be much higher with the present costs. Remediation means mitigating damages in all cases, since a complete recovery is impossible; therefore it is indispensable to preserve the continuity of the process, settle responsibility issues and maintain the legal framework. The remediation and the usage of brownfield investments offer great solutions both for generating resources and for cleaning up environmental damages.

Tibor Zoltán László, the deputy state secretary for environmental protection representing the Ministry of Agriculture, held the first presentation. He emphasized that natural resource management was undergoing transformation all over the world in the sense of sustainability. In Hungary, the National Environmental Remediation Programme contains the related provisions. The government allotted 111 billion HUF for remediation in the territory of Hungary, in addition to EU funds. 600 actions were carried out at 2000 identified locations, but none of that was actual remediation. The process of remediation is hindered by the fact that most of those locations are not governmental but private property.  

As part of the strategic problems of remediation, the deputy state secretary referred to the Rio+20 UN Conference, held in 2012, and its results: the Sustainable Development Framework of 2015. Hungary played a crucial role in the Framework’s initial form and subsequent shaping. Its goals are also present in the Hungarian remediation policies.

Gábor Hasznos, the remediation officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, outlined the National Environmental Remediation Programme . The Programme started defining the scope of contaminated area management in Hungary in 1996. Between 2010 and 2017, 10.9 billion HUF were allotted to the sub-programmes, where this sum was used to implement remediating measures in more than 300 areas. Concerning EU funds, EEOP 2.4.0 offered 39.3 billion HUF, EEEOP 21.4 billion HUF, and Spatial Planning and Urban Development Operational Programme – which was available for local governments – 35.75 billion HUF, in Hungary. On the same topic, Hajnalka Huszár, the strategic officer of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, emphasized that the EU Operative Programmes talk about remediation as a goal worthy of support, the principle of “polluter pays”, and the scope of responsibilities of the states.

Márton Garay, the head of unit from the Department of Urban Planning at the Municipality of the City of Budapest, presented the brownfield programmes of the capital. They focus on the brownfield areas in the vicinity of the city proper. The local governments of the concerned districts participate in the development of these territories. To further this cooperation, the Development of Brownfield Area Thematic Development Programme was outlined.

Prof. Paul Bardos (University of Brighton), the representative of the Network for Industrially Co-ordinated Sustainable Land Management in Europe (NICOLE), was the first international presenter. He outlined the activities and goals of the organisation, and then moved on to explaining the possibilities of treating and using brownfield areas. He illustrated with two examples from R3 Environmental Technology Ltd the remediation and utilization possibilities of brownfield sites where built reuse is not feasible. These territories can be suitable for producing renewable energy or as entertainment areas for the population.

Martha Wepner Banko, the representative of the European Common Forum on Contaminated Land and of the Austrian Environmental Agency, held a presentation on one of the key elements of strategic land management: revitalisation. Remediation of brownfield areas is an important part of the circular flow of land usage. To achieve that, negative attitude needs to be fought with open communication, transparent records and adequate risk analysis.

After the Austrian report, Joris Crynen, the managing director of Santerra NV, discussed the failures and successes of brownfield investments in Belgium. He stressed that all-round examination of the contamination is vital before starting the remediation, since there are no two identical cases, and even the soil structure influences the degradation of contaminants. The owners of the contaminated lands want solutions, but the financial provisions of the government do not necessarily help with that. Another source of problem is posed by owners who ignore the issue of contamination.

Assistant Professor Delehan-Kokaiko Svitlana from the Uzhhorod National University gave a talk about the situation in Ukraine. In the Sub-Carpathia, the main goal is restoring the waterworks in order to preserve the ecosystem of the Tisza Valley. This is a priority also for the countries of the EU, since the Tisza is the biggest tributary of the Danube.

From Germany, Gert Rehner and Eduard Alesi, representatives of IEG Technologie GmbH, delivered a presentation on circulating groundwater to help the remediation of contaminated aquifers. Chlorinated solvents (DNAPL) present the biggest challenge in the case of contaminated aquifers. The source of the problem is that the dispersion of electrondonors used during remediation is not uniform and not efficient in mixed aquifers. Their vertical groundwater circulation improves that.

János Kocserha, the deputy mayor of Solotvyno, Ukraine, outlined the present and the possible future of the salt mine near the settlement. The problems caused by the local salt extraction started arising in the 1990s, and by 2010 they deteriorated to a state-level emergency. At present, the settlement plans to revitalise the area and open a new salt mine.

The second round of Hungarian presenters started with Zsuzsanna Dócsné Balogh, the economic director of Trenecon Ltd. In her presentation, she put a spotlight on the importance of strategic thinking in the field of remediation and brownfield investments. She called for the renewal of the National Environmental Remediation Programme and the establishing of a comprehensive brownfield strategy. That would entail analysing the present situation, determining the strategic cornerstones, and identifying the responsibilities and the requirements for funding.

Zoltán Lénárt, the environmental protection expert from the Hungarian State Railways, described his experiences and the future plans concerning the remediation of railway areas. The number of contaminated areas falling within the authority of the Railways all over the country is close to sixty. 150 years of experience is significant, but the present operation is also lacking in sustainability in many aspects. The remediation processes tied to public procurement did not always achieve the expected results, partly due to obligatory steps in the process and partly due to other hindering factors. For a more fruitful completion, the company strives to establish closer communication and assess the remediation areas following a prioritised list.

Zsolt Farkas, the managing director of the Ökoproject Eger Ltd., outlined a specific remediation project on groundwater contaminated with chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbon, and the findings from it. Six years after the first stage of the project, an environmental assessment was carried out to bring observations up to date, and the results showed a reduction in the contamination concentration even for the period without intervention.

Melinda Wieser (Golder Zrt.) and Zoltán Palotai (Wessling Hungary Kft.) talked about other types of findings in their shared presentation: they summarised the challenges of identifying, analysing and remediating PFAS compounds. Those compounds are harmful for the health even in small concentration. Their chemical analysis is not fully developed, which – together with their special sorption abilities – justifies using the presented, newly developed approach.

András Jakab, the managing director of Jakab és Társai Ltd.., explained his experiences with transport modelling. Many different models were made in Hungary, out of which only few stand on solid grounds and are suitable. Precise identification of the place and role of transport modelling should be a top priority in the process of remediation.  

Tamás Madarász, the director of the Institute of Environmental Management of the University of Miskolc, presented laboratory tests and asset development that support remediation tasks. The main scope of the Institute is investigating the issues of hydrogeology, engineering geology and environmental engineering, more specifically subsurface and waste management questions. The Institute performs laboratory measurements on diffusion/rediffusion, the goal of which is to prevent rediffusion during ground water remediation processes and to avoid unfavourable water chemistry parameters.

Szabolcs Halmóczki and Dr Ferenc Gondi, representatives of BGT Hungaria Ltd., held a presentation on the possibilities of natural concentration reduction in Hungary. This phenomenon appears primarily at locations without active remediation. It was at such locations that they obtained the concentration time series of chemical substances in underground waters. Their work helped understand the types and extent of natural concentration reduction in the area, and also contributed to assessing the time required for the location to become usable. During onsite and laboratory measurements, the presence and intensity of concentration reducing mechanisms were measurable, which was of great help in defining the time and budget needed for making contaminated areas usable again.

Dr Tamás Szigeti, the business development manager of Wessling Hungary Ltd., talked about identifying glyphosate in water with LC/MS/MS technique. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Croplands have approximately 50 grams of glyphosate in every hectare. The residue of this herbicide is a cause for concern; therefore its usage is regulated by decree. In the case of laboratory tests, glyphosate is a “disrespectful” compound from an analytical viewpoint. The analysis of glyphosate is influenced by the fact that its concentration strongly changes with the circumstances during validation. Glyphosate is present in foodstuff, it has been detected even in biofoods, and as a result of that, also in human urine.

Dr Katalin Perei, assistant professor of the Biotechnology Department of the University of Szeged, talked about microorganisms that can be effectively used in remediating contaminated areas. Numerous microbes appear in contaminated areas to help decompose toxic organic substances. Several of them were successfully isolated in laboratory environment, and they were able to decompose normal or substituted hydrocarbons. In addition to microbes capable of inducing biodegradation, dormant bacteria can also be activated with the help of special materials.

Gábor Jeszenői, the project manager of ELGOSCAR-2000 Ltd., held a presentation on planning of remediation. Remediation projects based on faulty concepts do not bring the expected results, and tend to return to their starting points. To avoid that, plans might need to be supported with onsite experiments. The company started a pilot project for a potential intervention at a location contaminated with hydrocarbons. As a part of that, they measured the effects of injecting nutritive substances into the soil and groundwater.   

János Kocsány, the managing director of Graphisoft Park SE, presented the successful remediation of a brownfield area. The development of the park goes back to 1997. The land used to belong to the Óbuda Gas Works, where synthetic gas was produced for seventy years – causing significant contamination. Remediation was included in the development schedule of the park. As a result, its territory now hosts 82,000 m2 useful floor area of offices, a laboratory and an educational institution, which are used by 5000 employees and 1000 students on a daily basis.

Irma Zöldi, water quality protection officer at the General Directorate of Water Management, gave a talk about the remediation of MGP at the territory of Aquincum, Csókavár and Budafok, as part of the National Environmental Remediation Programme. In 1997, remediation was started at the Aquincum Museum to remove the illegally dumped MGP waste. During the operation 150 tons of contaminated soil was removed. At the cave houses of Budafok, more than 77,000 tons of MGP waste, 559 tons of leachate and 3,000 tons of slurry were disposed of. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, approximately 60,000 tons of MGP waste and a lesser amount of other waste was transported to the abandoned stone quarry of Csókavár. During the remediation, the waste was excavated and disposed of. The remediation ended the contamination of underground waters in all three projects.

Finally a field trip took place at the territory of the Óbuda Gas Works. The participants could inspect the rehabilitated area of the Graphisoft Park, the renovated industrial buildings, and the areas that still needed remediation.

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