What is a brownfield

Brownfields: What You Need to Know

A dilapidated dry cleaning facility that shut its doors a decade ago. An abandoned gas station on the side of the highway. A vacant lot that’s been used as a dumping ground for the last five years. Not only are these types of properties eyesores, they also post an environmental threat to the land they stand on and to the people who live near them. You’ve probably noticed them in your own cities or neighborhoods, and wondering why someone hasn’t done something about them. The truth is that cleaning up these situations, especially when they’ve been neglected for so long, isn’t as easy as it seems.

What is a brownfield?

A brownfield is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

Brownfield sites can and do include idle, underused, or abandoned properties where the threat of an environmental impact has hindered redevelopment. If property was used by a business or for a purpose that produced high levels of contaminants during its operations, then it’s likely that it’s now considered a brownfield. In fact, the EPA reports that there are over half a million identified brownfields in the United States. The number of undocumented brownfields is likely much higher.

Why are brownfields a problem?

As you can probably guess, the existence of brownfields—especially in such high numbers—is an ongoing problem for federal, state, and local governments, as well as many businesses and industries. Unused property doesn’t help the economy, and contaminated lands are a drain on our environmental health. Not to mention the fact that a brownfield is a blemish on a community, one that will eventually lower property values.

We know what you’re thinking. “Just clean up the brownfields! Problem solved!” Unfortunately, this solution isn’t as cut and dried as one might hope. The problem is that the cost of cleaning these sites is often very high. For many businesses who are interested in buying the land and rehabilitating it, the cost of remediation makes this option financially infeasible.

And yet the benefits of remediating brownfields and putting the land to good use goes far beyond monetary value. Reclaiming these properties creates jobs, expands the tax base, and revitalizes the local economy. This is precisely why state and federal governments have evolved programs to assist developers interested in cleaning up these sites.

How can Applied Resource Management help?  

The North Carolina Brownfields Program is North Carolina’s effort to help in the redevelopment of the brownfield properties. This statute, known as the Brownfield Property Reuse Act, treats developers differently from the parties who contaminated the property in the first place. It allows developers to negotiate an agreement with the program that defines activities needed to make the site suitable for reuse, rather than cleaning it to regulation standards, as the responsible parties are required to do. This means that developers can now afford the cost of fixing up and using the land.

If you’re a developer interested in a property that is or might be a brownfield, the first step is determining if contaminants are present on the property. This means you’ll need an environmental site assessment, which is where Applied Resource Management comes in. Our environmental professionals help in the redevelopment of properties by completing a Brownfields Assessment and Receptor Survey. Contact us today to get started!