Region struggles to clean poisoned ground

The Copenhagen area has the most contaminated ground in the nation, but officials say they need more money – and many more years – to fix the problem

Old dump yards, sewage, and chemical and industrial waste have poisoned the ground in 15,000 locations around the country, and an additional 14,000 locations are also suspected of being contaminated.

DR Nyheder has made a map of poisoned areas that may threaten the purity of drinking water or put people's health at risk.

"Wow, that is serious. That is really serious," Bent Hansen (S), the political head of the association of regions, Danske Regioner, responded when DR Nyheder confronted him with its map. "It is reminding us of the sins of the past. I guarantee that no-one in the 1920s or 1930s ever thought that what they were doing would have consequences well into the future. We have been discussing this for years, but now we see the results hitting close to home."

Contamination is worst in capital
The Greater Copenhagen Regional Council (Region Hovedstaden) has acknowledged that the area in and around Copenhagen has the country's worst cases of poisoned ground.

But that is not because the region doesn't take the issue seriously, says Lars Gaardhøj, the head of the region's environment and green growth panel.

"We actually spend more on this than we get set aside from the state," he told DR Nyheder. 

READ MORE: Regions vs councils: Who does what?

Region Hovedstaden received 134 million kroner from the state to deal with the poisoned areas, but a surplus generated by bus company Movia has allowed the region to spend a total of 174 million. Two thirds of that money is being spent on cleaning the contaminated grounds, while the other third goes to adminsitrative costs and finding and mapping the affected areas.

The region hopes to have a full overview of the contaminated areas by next year, but even if the region gets its hands on a bigger sum of money, regional council member Abbas Razvi (R) is concerned that it won't be nearly enough.

"Even if we spend everything, it would still take around 50 years to clean the ground. We need much more money before we can reach our goal," he told DR Nyheder. "Meanwhile we are also responsible for preventing waste water from chemical dumps from seeping into the groundwater. We have to handle that with the same money."

Do you live on poisoned ground?
If you happen to live in a contaminated zone, it means that the region is aware of pollution in the area, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the situation poses a health risk.

Both Larsen and Razvi advise people who live on poisoned ground to contact their region, which can give an estimate of where the cleaning process stands.

"We have committed to cleaning the ground," Razvi said. "The health of our residents is at risk."

DR's map of the contaminated areas (orange) and areas under suspicion (yellow) can be seen here.

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