Brownfield Basics

The U.S. EPA defines brownfields as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” A brownfield is any former industrial or commercial site that is abandoned or underutilized and suffers from real or perceived contamination. Left alone, brownfields are detriments to the landscape and environment, negatively affecting property values and deterring investment in nearby areas. They are typically the last urban sites to be redeveloped due to uncertainties related to contaminants and costs, and challenges posed by potential environmental liability issues and project financing. For communities that can overcome these challenges, the payoff can be very rewarding.

Sustainable community planning encourages the cleanup and reuse of these areas for the community’s long term environmental and economic health. Cleanup of brownfields can increase tax base and property values, create jobs, and spur local investment. Communities can take advantage of federal funds to assist with the assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites. Many states have established financing programs that have been combined with federal grants and resources to revitalize abandoned sites and return them to productive use. These financing programs often require specific and well-defined regulatory structures to work effectively.

Site Assessment and Cleanup

Site Assessment is the first step in understanding the potential contamination of a site and planning for its remediation, or cleanup. Each brownfield site undergoes multiple phases of site assessment, beginning with Phase I, which typically involves interviews regarding former site use, along with thorough review of documents and public records to determine expected contamination. Phase II Assessments require field based sampling and analysis to identify the type and concentration of existing pollutants, while Phase III and IV Assessments involve acquiring cleanup cost estimates and remediation planning for the site. Assessment grants are available through the U.S. EPA to fund brownfields inventories, planning, environmental assessments, and community outreach. The complexity of Site Cleanup can vary widely and the goals for cleanup are determined by existing regulations. Activities may involve soil, surface water or groundwater removal or encapsulation of contaminants. Entities that did not contribute to the contamination may perform remediation through a voluntary cleanup program, which may limit liability associated with newly discovered contamination after cleanup. A cleanup may be considered complete when local, state, or federal regulatory closure (e.g., a No Further Action Letter) is issued. Competitive Cleanup grants are awarded by the U.S. EPA in amounts up to $200,000 and with a performance period of three years. Communities should contact their Regional EPA Offices to learn about additional state and local financing sources to assist with Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup.

>>> EPA Brownfields Assessment Grants

>>> EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grants

>>> EPA Targeted Brownfields Assessment - The Basics

Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Providers

The TABs help communities tackle the challenge of assessing, cleaning up and preparing brownfield sites for redevelopment, especially underserved, rural, small and otherwise distressed communities.

>>> New Jersey Institute of Technology (EPA Regions 1 & 3)

>>> Center for Creative Land Recycling (EPA Regions 2,4,9, & 10)

>>> Kansas State University Technical Assistance to Brownfields (EPA Regions 5, 6, 7, & 8)

>>> More about EPA's Technical Assistance to Brownfields Program

Disclaimer: This publication was developed under Assistance Agreement No. TR-83576801-0 awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of Council of Development Finance Agencies and EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.