Thrirteen residents of the Stirlingshire village of Blanefield have been ordered to share costs totalling £635,000, after council environmental officers discovered high levels of arsenic and lead in their gardens, presumed to be the legacy of a 19th-century printing works on the site.
The case is believed to be the first in the UK where householders have been held liable for historical industrial pollution on their property.
The 1990 Environmental Protection Act, designed to punish polluters, makes property owners liable for the costs of decontamination, more than half of which (£322,000) is landfill tax plus VAT. The law is in the process of being devolved to Scotland, and parliamentarians, including local MSP Bruce Crawford, are working to amend it to exempt innocent victims of legacy pollution.
In the Blanefield case, households are being asked to pay between £12,000 and £100,000 to resolve contamination from a factory that closed in 1910.
A spokesman for Stirling Council, which has offered £125,000 towards the clean-up cost, told the Sunday Herald it was "endeavouring to work to a timescale that gives the best outcome for all".
He said: "A significant factor in the process is the outcome of possible amendments to the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill, taking effect April 2015 which, if agreed, could substantially reduce the cost to owners."
Local MP Anne McGuire said: "We need to make sure that the drafting of the new Scottish Parliament legislation is tight enough to exempt householders in this situation."
Margaret Vass, chairwoman of Blanefield Community Council, said: "There has not been a single reported case of ill health arising from this pollution; the real damage to the health of the community has been the stress and strain of worrying about these charges, which have made these houses unsaleable in the meantime."