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Brownfield land

"Brownfield" redirects here. For other uses, see Brownfield (disambiguation).
Example of brownfield land at a disused gasworks site after excavation, with soil contamination from removed underground storage tanks.

Brownfield is a term used in urban planning to describe land previously used for commercial uses or industrial purposes. Such land has been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution or is feared to be so.[1][2] Once cleaned up, such an area can become host to a business development such as a retail park. Land that is more severely contaminated and has high concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution, such as a Superfund site, does not fall under the brownfield classification. Mothballed brownfields are properties that the owners are not willing to transfer or put to productive reuse.[3]

The term applies more generally to previously used land or to sections of industrial or commercial facilities that are to be upgraded,[4] although this usage is becoming more commonplace.

United States

The term brownfields first came into use on June 28, 1992, at a U.S. congressional field hearing hosted by the Northeast Midwest Congressional Coalition. Also in 1992, the first detailed policy analysis of the issue was convened by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. The United States Environmental Protection Agency selected Cuyahoga County as its first brownfield pilot project in September 1993.[5]


Generally, brownfield sites exist in a city's or town's industrial section, on locations with abandoned factories or commercial buildings, or other previously polluting operations. Small brownfields also may be found in many older residential neighborhoods. For example, many dry cleaning establishments or gas stations produced high levels of subsurface contaminants during prior operations, and the land they occupy might sit idle for decades as a brownfield.

Typical contaminants found on contaminated brownfield land include hydrocarbon spillages, solvents, pesticides, heavy metals such as lead (e.g., paints), tributyltins, and asbestos. Old maps may assist in identifying areas to be tested.

Redevelopment strategies

A number of innovative financial and remediation techniques have been used in the U.S. in recent years to expedite the cleanup of brownfield sites. For example, some environmental firms have teamed up with insurance companies to underwrite the cleanup of distressed brownfield properties and provide a guaranteed cleanup cost for a specific brownfield property, to limit land developers' exposure to environmental remediation costs and pollution lawsuits. The environmental firm first performs an extensive investigation of the brownfield site to ensure that the guaranteed cleanup cost is reasonable and they will not wind up with any surprises.

Innovative remedial techniques used at distressed brownfields in recent years include in situ thermal remediation, bioremediation and in situ oxidation. Often, these strategies are used in conjunction with each other or with other remedial strategies such as soil vapor extraction. In this process, vapor from the soil phase is extracted from soils and treated, which has the effect of removing contaminants from the soils and groundwater beneath a site. Some brownfields with heavy metal contamination have even been cleaned up through an innovative approach called phytoremediation, which uses deep-rooted plants to soak up metals in soils into the plant structure as the plant grows. After they reach maturity, the plants – which now contain the heavy metal contaminants in their tissues – are removed and disposed of as hazardous waste.

Research is under way to see if some brownfields can be used to grow crops, specifically for the production of biofuels.[6] Michigan State University, in collaboration with DaimlerChrysler and NextEnergy, has small plots of soybean, corn, canola, and switchgrass growing in a former industrial dump site in Oakland County, Michigan. The intent is to see if the plants can serve two purposes simultaneously: assist with phytoremediation, and contribute to the economical production of biodiesel and/or ethanol fuel.

The regeneration of brownfields in United Kingdom and in other European countries has gained prominence due to Greenfield land restrictions as well as their potential to promote the urban renaissance.[4]

Post-redevelopment uses

File:Atlantic Station central park statue.jpg
Brownfield relic serves as monument in a new park in Atlantic Station area of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Some state governments restrict development of brownfield sites to particular uses in order to minimize exposure to leftover contaminants on-site after the cleanup is completed; such properties are deed-restricted in their future usage. Some legally require that such areas are reused for housing or for new commercial use in order not to destroy further arable land. The redevelopment of brownfield sites is a significant part of new urbanism, while some brownfields are left as green spaces for recreational uses.

For historical reasons, many brownfield sites are close to important thoroughfares such as highways and rivers; their reclamation can therefore be a major asset to a city. Portland, Oregon, has pioneered the use of road and rail infrastructure to support the cleanup and reuse of brownfield sites. Another example is the Atlantic Station project in Atlanta, the largest brownfield redevelopment in the United States.[7] In Seattle, rusted remains of a gasworks were left in place to add character to Gas Works Park. Dayton, like many other cities in the region, is developing Tech Town in order to attract technology-based firms to Dayton and revitalize the downtown area.

But one of the most well-known areas in the United States for brownfield redevelopment is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has successfully converted numerous former steel mill sites into high-end residential, shopping and offices. Several examples of brownfield redevelopment in Pittsburgh include the following:

File:Hudson Riv WW canal Port Liberte jeh.jpg
Brownfield residential development in New Jersey


In the United States, investigation and cleanup of brownfield sites is largely regulated by state environmental agencies in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).The EPA, together with local and national government, can provide technical help and some funding for assessment and cleanup of designated sites. They can also provide tax incentives for cleanup that is not paid for outright; specifically, cleanup costs are fully tax-deductible in the year they are incurred.[8] Many of the most important provisions on liability relief are contained in state codes that can differ significantly from state to state.[9]

In the United Kingdom, regulation of contaminated land comes from Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; responsibility falls on local authorities to create a "contaminated land register", sites with dubious past and present uses may be subject to a desktop study,[10] which is sometimes implemented as a condition in planning applications.

Barriers to redevelopment

Examples of brownfields that were redeveloped into productive properties

Many contaminated brownfield sites sit unused for decades because the cost of cleaning them to safe standards is more than the land would be worth after redevelopment. However, redevelopment has become more common in the first decade of the 21st century, as developable land grows less available in highly populated areas, and brownfields contribute to environmental stigma which can delay redevelopment.[11] Also, the methods of studying contaminated land have become more sophisticated and established.

Many federal and state programs have been developed to help developers interested in cleaning up brownfield sites and restoring them to practical uses. Some states and localities have spent considerable money assessing the contamination on local brownfield sites, to quantify the cleanup costs in an effort to move the redevelopment process forward.

In the process of cleaning contaminated brownfield sites, surprises are sometimes encountered, such as previously unknown underground storage tanks, buried drums or buried railroad tank cars containing wastes. When unexpected circumstances arise, the cost for clean-up increases, and as a result, the cleanup work may be delayed or stopped entirely. To avoid unexpected contamination and increased costs, many developers insist that a site be thoroughly investigated (via a Phase II Site Investigation or Remedial Investigation) prior to commencing remedial cleanup activities.


Acquisition, adaptive re-use, and disposal of a brownfield site requires advanced and specialized appraisal analysis techniques. For example, the highest and best use of the brownfield site may be affected by the contamination, both pre- and post-remediation. Additionally, the value should take into account residual stigma and potential for third-party liability. Normal appraisal techniques frequently fail, and appraisers must rely on more advanced techniques, such as contingent valuation, case studies, or statistical analyses.[12] Nonetheless, a University of Delaware study has suggested a 17.5:1 return on dollars invested on brownfield redevelopment.[13]

See also


  1. "Glossary of Brownfields Terms" (URL). Environmental Law Institute. Retrieved 2015-02-25. 
  2. Sustainable Brownfield Regeneration (PDF). (Concerted Action on Brownfield and Economic Regeneration Network (Report) (University of Nottingham). 2006: 3. ISBN 0-9547474-5-3. 
  3. "Brownfields Showcase Community Fact Sheet" (URL). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Maliene V, Wignall L, Malys N (2012). "Brownfield Regeneration: Waterfront Site Developments in Liverpool and Cologne". Journal of Environmental Engineering and Landscape Management 20 (1). pp. 5–16. doi:10.3846/16486897.2012.659030. 
  5. "Brownfields Program Achievements Linked to Early Success" (PDF). United States Environmental Protection Agency. October 2006. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 2012-04-10. 
  6. "ANR Communications" (URL). Michigan State University. July 10, 2006. Retrieved 2009-11-29. [dead link]
  7. "Building a City Within the City of Atlanta". 2006-05-24. Retrieved 2014-06-16. 
  8. "Brownfields Tax Incentive" (URL). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  9. "Brownfields Overview Page" (URL). National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  10. "Desktop Study Reports - London, Bristol & Exeter". Retrieved 2014-06-16. 
  11. Coming Back from Economic Despair Henry Mayer and Micheal Greenburg. Economic Development Quarterly, August 2001
  12. "John A. Kilpatrick Resume". Greenfield Advisors. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2009-11-29.  Article Author of "Valuation of Brownfields", Chapter 29 in Lexis-Nexis Matthew Bender's Brownfield Law and Practice, 2007.
  13. Montgomery, Jeff (14 May 2011). "Cleaning up contamination". The News Journal (New Castle, Delaware: Gannett). DelawareOnline. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011.  The first online page is archived; the page containing information related here is not in the archived version.

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