What is a "Brownfield" Property?

What is a Brownfield Property?

A brownfield property is a site that has hazardous waste or contaminants. Cleaning up these properties can have many benefits for local economies, such as taxes and jobs. Brownfield properties can:

  • Improve the environment by cleaning up land and lessons learned from previous development.
  • Brownfields can help add to local businesses, jobs, property values, and tax revenues.
  • Brownfields have been used for many things including parks, housing developments, and shopping centers.

Brownfields are dealt with every day in America. Brownfields must be cleaned up when they become hazards to people. They are often developed for commercial use or for housing developments. Brownfield cleanup projects provide jobs and tax revenues to the city, county, and state governments. These areas must be cleaned up in an environmentally safe way to protect people and buildings nearby from contamination exposure.

Situations that Lead to Brownfield Sites

What sort of situation could lead to a brownfield site? Two typical situations are when something is spilled on a piece of land and also when a building has been destroyed by fire. Here are some typical situations:

  • Sites with buildings that are empty or have companies in them that do not care about the building value. They leave trash around, causing the area to look run-down and unsafe.
  • Old gas stations where fuel tanks were leaking at some point, may still be toxic today.
  • Factories that use chemicals that cause hazardous waste are called brownfields.
  • Factories that produce chemicals that affect the air we breathe or can enter our water system, and cause harmful effects to us.
  • Old military facilities where missiles could have leaked toxic materials into groundwater or soil on site.

Specific Examples of Brownfield Cleanup Sites

The following are examples of what the EPA and state governments have done to clean up brownfields.

  • The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has cleaned more than a thousand properties since 1992, including a toxic dump site turned into a public park in Los Angeles.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has cleaned up a power plant site in western Kentucky into a shopping center, movie theater, restaurants, and condominiums.
  • The Federal Government is helping to clean up 1,000 Brownfield sites in 37 states by 2010. The program aims to stimulate economic growth in the country by cleaning up sites and using them for new development.

Cost to Clean Up Brownfields

The cost to clean up a brownfield depends on how much work and time it takes to clean up. It can take hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up a brownfield property. The cost to cleanup depends on how much of the property needs to be cleaned and restored, plus how long it takes to complete the process. It also depends on local laws and regulations that may affect clean up work.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides financial grants for brownfields cleanup projects through its Brownfields Program. Property owners who need help with demolition, site preparation or cleanup costs may qualify for grants.

Walking Through a Brownfield Cleanup

Cleanup actions may include things like taking survey samples and testing the soil or groundwater to identify specific contaminants. Once these are identified the cleanup plan can begin. Contaminants may be treated by removing them from the soil with special equipment. Contaminants may also be treated in another way. The soil and groundwater might need to be cleaned up by placing a barrier between the contaminated area and the clean air, water or soil.

The process for cleaning up the area is:

  1. Identify hazardous waste site problems.
  2. Assure public health and safety.
  3. Remediate contaminants, fences, and buildings are removed.
  4. The site is redeveloped.

How to Prevent Contamination from Spreading Further

In order to prevent contamination from spreading further, you may need to build a wall around the contaminated area. The wall is called a Pile or Boundary Wall. It keeps contaminants from spreading further and protects people living nearby.

In order for the containment process to begin, the government has to purchase and own the property where a contamination problem exists and must identify it as an area that needs containment. They will work with owners, businesses and/or individuals in the area to determine what type of barrier is needed.

When a pile or boundary wall is used to contain contamination from spreading further it can be made out of materials like soil, stone, rock or concrete. The government agency involved in the cleanup process usually takes care of the containment costs.

Property owners and businesses are not responsible for paying for cleanup actions or containment measures unless they caused the contamination. In this case, property owners might be asked to share in the cost of cleaning up contaminated property.

In Conclusion

Although brownfields are a concern and can be dangerous, the government is working to clean them up so they can be used for new businesses. In addition, local governments can use federal money to develop brownfield sites into parks or sports fields and provide a safer place for kids to play.

With the help of the government, brownfield sites can be cleaned up and used for new business development or public use, while at the same time protecting people's health and safety. These sites provide great opportunities for jobs and economic growth.