What is a Brownfield Site?
A brownfield site, also referred to as “brownfield land” or simply “brownfield,” is a commonly used term in urban planning. It is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” The term typically describes areas of land that were once used for commercial or industrial purposes such as factories and warehouses.
Dry cleaners and gas station sites are known to produce high levels of contaminants – however, abandoned lots are also very likely to be contaminated by illegal dumping of hazardous materials. The EPA estimates that there are over half a million known brownfield sites in the United States, but the actual numbers are most likely much higher, as only reported brownfield sites have been counted.
Brownfield Reclamation and Redevelopment
Unlike “greenfield land,” which is land that has never been used or developed upon, brownfield sites are very likely to be at risk of soil contamination. While an environmental concern for all, these plots of land are especially concerning for developers and property buyers. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) has deemed the site purchaser to be responsible for the purchase of contaminated property. This legislation has made testing potential properties for contamination very important. High property demand in urban areas has increased interest in brownfield reclamation.
Types of Brownfields
A site is determined to be contaminated by an ESA, environmental site assessment. This test not only confirms (or denies) whether that suspected land is indeed contaminated but can determine the classification of the land and the level of contamination.
Petroleum sites are the most common types of brownfield. These sites house petroleum in underground storage tanks that are prone to leakage and contaminate groundwater and soil. Fortunately, petroleum sites are remediable. They are usually less expensive and faster to clean than the other types of brownfields. Petroleum brownfields take only a few months compared to years for other types of sites.
Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS)
A FUDS is a piece of land previously used by the military. Due to the diverse nature of military operations, the type of contaminants varies widely. Moreso, there are rarely any formal clean-up procedures – or specialized technology – in place to handle the clean up of these types of contaminants. This makes FUDS both costly and time-consuming to remediate. A FUDS property is a challenging brownfield site to reclaim and the process can take up to eight years.
Superfund sites are the most challenging type of brownfields to reclaim. The degree of contamination serves as an immediate health threat to the environment and community. Reclamation is extremely difficult, so much so that it requires government involvement and can take decades to clean.
It’s important to know what is a brownfield site if you are purchasing previously-developed land. If you are concerned that your development site is suspected to be chemically contaminated, contact the South Florida environmental consulting experts at EPAC Inc Environmental Services. Our knowledgeable team has worked on environmental issues throughout Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York and Texas. Contact us today before you purchase a brownfield site for your development project.