What is a Brownfield?

According to the EPA, a brownfield is a property expansion, redevelopment, or reuse that may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. There are several benefits to investing in properties classified as Brownfields, centered around the availability of infrastructure and economic incentives.

Using brownfield sites for development may be preferable to using existing green space, as reinvesting in these properties benefits communities and protects the human health and the environment. A successful brownfield redevelopment can be accomplished by considering the final land reuse and how to manage any risk posed by contamination to the end user.

Redevelopment efforts also must consider potential public health concerns—for example, hazards like a leaking underground gasoline tank or contaminated water that have gone previously undetected. It is imperative to work with a team of experts to identify, address, and treat any existing brownfield issues, as well as those that may arise in the future.

Potential Challenges with Brownfields

Beyond the primary fact that brownfield contaminants could pose serious public health risks, developers must be confident no issues will arise for their potential buyers. Proposed development on a brownfield requires thorough assessment and remediation, often including the use of risk mitigation techniques, cleanup, and liability management.

The EPA currently estimates that there are nearly half a million brownfields in the U.S., and development at these sites has grown in popularity in recent years due to an increased desire to revitalize vacant and derelict buildings and other infrastructure. Therefore, it is increasingly important for developers and owners to do due diligence in assessing potential risk and ensuring these properties meet development objectives and are in line with all applicable environmental regulations.

Addressing Brownfield Contamination

Contaminants may be found in the water, soil, or air; the amount of assessment and any cleanup that may be necessary depends on specific contaminants found at the brownfield, as well as how the site will be used. Various technologies and methods are used to clean up brownfield properties. Here are some commonly used methods:

  • In-situ treatment: Injected chemicals break down contaminants or convert them into less harmful or toxic substances. Solidification or stabilization adds binding or chemical agents to prevent chemicals from leaching.
  • Bioremediation: Natural or adapted microbes are used to consume organic contaminants, adding nutrients, oxygen, or chemicals to increase beneficial microbial growth.
  • Excavation: Surface or subsurface contaminants are dug up and transported offsite for treatment or disposal.
  • Capping: A geotextile barrier is used between the surface and contaminants, protecting the area, and reducing exposure.
  • Phytoremediation: Plant root systems are used to neutralize, stabilize, or increase microbial contaminant degradation.
  • Lead and asbestos abatement: Licensed contractors inspect and remove lead and asbestos, often using specialized equipment.

Finally, an important component is for the potential developer or investor of these properties to consider achieving cleanup objectives by using institutional controls such as restrictions on groundwater access and soil excavation. These are risk-mitigation techniques often used to control costs that do not reduce levels of protection to human health and the environment.   

Additional Brownfield Services

Working with the right team to assess and solve brownfield issues is key in ensuring a safe, clean site and can also save money. Third-party firms like Cameron-Cole are involved in the redevelopment of Brownfield properties, can evaluate and advise on risk-mitigation techniques, and reassess proposed remediation costs, sometimes saving clients millions of dollars. Cameron-Cole also can provide guidance on available grants from the EPA Brownfields Program.

Read more about potential opportunities and benefits to investing in brownfields.

Operating with significant environmental liabilities and risks presents a constant potential for complications to arise. Don't let these dilemmas hinder your organization. Cameron-Cole's environmental experts are trained to craft solutions that reduce your risks while keeping your projects on track.