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What are Brownfield?

A brownfield site is property that was once used for commercial or industrial purposes and is now targeted for redevelopment. The property may be polluted due to its former use. This can make redevelopment difficult. 

Brownfield sites can be abandoned factories, gas stations, oil storage facilities, and other places where pollutants were used. Such sites must be cleaned up and checked for safety before they can be reused. State and federal brownfields programs help developers safely use these sites for housing, retail stores, parks, and other purposes.

See also: Ammonia Benzene Diesel Dioxins Lead Mercury Methanol Perchlorate Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC) Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Endocrine Disruptors Arsenic Formaldehyde Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Asbestos Pesticides Phthalates

Why are Brownfield a concern?

There are many potential health hazards on brownfield properties. Most brownfields have physical hazards, such as uncovered holes, unsafe structures, and sharp objects. Past industrial activities can leave behind chemical pollution or drums of chemical wastes.

Who is at risk?

People entering these properties may be injured or exposed to toxic chemicals. People at risk may include: 

  • Real estate developers
  • Construction and environmental workers
  • Children playing at or exploring the site

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

Onsite pollution will depend on the facility that used to operate there. Pollutants may include:

Reduce your risk

  • Do you live near a brownfield?
  • Do you live on a former brownfield site?
  • Each community may have its own redevelopment goals for how the property will be used. Your community must:
    • Identify contaminated properties.
    • Analyze the risk posed by the type of contamination.
    • Clean up the property, and select a remedial action.
  • Redevelopment for residential or open space use may require a higher level of cleanup.
    • Determine if the contamination requires cleanup or other corrective measures in order to protect human health and the environment.
    • Urban gardens are a popular re-use option for former brownfields. Minimize human exposure to chemicals such as lead and arsenic by:
      • Avoiding direct soil ingestion or inhalation.
      • Being aware of possible trace element contamination in urban soils persisting from previous use.
  • Keep children away from undeveloped brownfield sites.

Community action tools

Find Local Data

ATSDR Action Model Toolkit
An interactive tool that helps you identify brownfields in your neighborhood, and make plans to revitalize the land in your community.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Tools for Community Engagement

EPA Enforcement
Information on government enforcement actions to reduce air and water pollution, and clean up sites contaminated by waste and chemicals, including links to national compliance initiatives, enforcement cases and data, policy, guidance, and publications.
Environmental Protection Agency

Additional Resources

  • ATSDR Brownfield/Land Reuse Health Initiative
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Information on a government program that conducts community health checks on brownfield sites, which are a type of land reuse site slated for redevelopment that may have chemical contamination.
  • Brownfields
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Information about a government program for expanding, redeveloping, or reusing brownfields that provides grants to states, communities, and other stakeholders to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.
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