Brownfields refer to pieces of land that may be abandoned, underused or lying idle and may be contaminated with pollutant waste. Such land may have previously been used for industrial and commercial purposes and could as well be having the potential of being reused if it could be redeveloped. Upon redevelopment, brownfields become potential for productive reuse, which may include business and agricultural activities (European Commission 5). The concept of brownfields was used for the first time in 1992 when the US Agency for Environmental Protection established a pilot project to redevelop abandoned land. Brownfields are commonly found in a city’s industrial locations particularly those containing abandoned industrial constructions among other initially polluting establishments. Small scale brownfields may as well be found in old residential localities and these may for example include dry cleaning constructions and gas stations that produced intensive subsurface pollutants during their past operations. The land upon which such constructions may have occupied may as well be relying idly as brownfields. Among the typical pollutants that may often be found in brownfields include contaminated spillages, solvents, metals and different varieties of chemicals (Vermeer 20). This paper analyses the various implications associated with abandoned and undeveloped brownfields, solutions to these implications and the benefits associated with these solutions.
Environmental issues linked to brownfields
The major implications that may be linked to the emergence of brownfields often set forth when abandoned areas that result from termination of traditional industries emerge. This may be attributed by an economical decline that sees industrial facilities that fail to serve their primary purpose remaining idle and abandoned. Such areas are usually polluted with hazardous substances that may cause significant implications upon the environment. As argued by European Commission (9), a key environmental problem that is often linked to the existence of brownfields mainly includes a huge amount of contaminated soil particularly due to contaminated groundwater and constructions. Soil contamination has proven to be a key issue of concern especially because it is often complex to eradicate this type of contamination, and as such, such abandoned areas can only be improved through significant prevention of any further contamination in the future. On this note, harmful substances contained in contaminated soil prove to have severe long-term implications that may significantly reduce agricultural usefulness of such portions of land. Extended existence of hazardous waste that mainly includes petroleum and volatile compounds may remain in the ground for a lengthy period of time. This can persist for decades thereby attributing to environmental degradation mainly through contaminating underground water, rivers and the subsequent aquatic life (Vermeer 23).
Idle brownfields have also been associated with complex effects on human health mainly because they may potentially be contaminated with toxic chemicals. As argued by European Commission (12), a high level of toxic contaminants in brownfields increases the level of exposure that local residents face on their day to day basis. This results from consuming vegetables that may have been grown on polluted vegetable gardens as well as when children explore contaminated grounds thereby coming into direct contact with toxic substances and industrial waste. Such public health implications resulting from increased exposure to contaminated brownfields have not only been proven by experts but have also been affirmed through research and historical outcomes. A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (11) showed that increased exposure to brownfields that are highly polluted with Polychlorinated Biphenyls attributes to cases of low birth-weight and increased mortality among infants. Hazardous waste found in idle brownfields further attributes to severe implications of public health particularly in cases where they pollute drinking water supplies. The US Environmental Protection Agency (17) found out that a high degree of contamination on drinking water increases chances to develop leukemia among children. Toxins oozing from contaminant industrial wastes can also seep into houses thereby attributing to poisoned indoor air, which can in return cause respiratory ailments among children and adults.
Idle and abandoned brownfields further contribute to increased environment-related costs particularly in cases where polluters try to avoid the responsibility to clean up their mess. As argued by Vermeer (25), the cost of cleaning up brownfields constantly continues to increase as polluters tend to make every possible effort to avoid the responsibility of funding the cleanup activities. An inquiry at the deferral level has shown that polluters have successfully pulled out from this responsibility by evading taxes on contaminant chemicals while on the other hand draining funds given in support for cleanup programs. This has seen cleanup programs within the federal state constantly becoming weak as they lack resources and aggressiveness that is required to promote significant cleaning of abandoned industrial sites.
Brownfield redevelopment should be the most appropriate solution that ought to be employed to help address the various environmental implications linked to industrial wastes and contaminants. According to Siikamaki (560), brownfield redevelopment describes the innovative remediation techniques that can be employed to enhance the revitalization of brownfield sites. This practice is particularly important because it perpetuates a significant level of benefits to the neighboring communities among other stakeholders. An inquiry by the US Environmental Protection Agency (22) showed that brownfield redevelopment enhances human health by reducing overall exposure to harmful contaminants. Thorough cleanup of industrial waste sites reduces the overall amount of hazardous substances both onsite and offsite. This limits the level of contaminant migration into the neighboring soil, water and the atmosphere thereby reducing the overall level of environmental degradation. Brownfield redevelopment further reduces humans’ exposure to contaminations, which in return helps to promote the overall health of the surrounding communities. Brownfield redevelopment has also been associated with a significant reduction in overall miles that vehicles plying a previously abandoned industrial waste site have cover. This in return helps to improve the quality of the surrounding air, which subsequently reduces possible health implications that include asthma (Siikamaki 573). Redeveloping brownfields also increases accessibility in the neighborhood by creating additional services that can help individuals to easily reach other amenities. This reduces traffic congestion, which has been associated with increased environmental degradation. Improved accessibility in the neighborhood can as well be enhanced when a walking rail, a greengrocer or a health facility is located in a previously abandoned brownfield. This promotes easy access to fresh food products, quality healthcare and physical exercise that would not have been possible without the revitalization activity. Planting trees in the process of brownfield redevelopment improves the surrounding environment by promoting carbon absorption, reduced rainfall runoff and regulation of temperature. This reduces the various environmental hazards that may be linked with lack of trees in a neighborhood (Siikamaki 582).
To achieve the objective of redeveloping brownfields, remediation techniques should be employed to help clean up the industrial waste sites. Environmental firms can for example team up to help guarantee the cleanup of highly distressed brownfield sites as well as guarantee redevelopment cost for a particular brownfield site so as to protect developers from being exposed to remediation expenses and pollution complaints. This would include undertaking an extensive exploration of the site to ensure that the proposed cleanup cost is worthwhile and hence, there will be no unexpected surprises (Sousa 2). Employing other remediation techniques that include “In Situ Thermal Remediation” and “In Situ Oxidation” can as well help to redevelop highly distressed and abandoned brownfields. These techniques can be integrated or be employed in conjunction with other techniques that include the soil water extortion. Through this technique, water in the soil can be removed and treated, which would help to remove pollutants in the soil and groundwater within a site. Other brownfields containing very heavy metals can be redeveloped using an innovative cleanup approach that is commonly known as phytoremediation (Sousa 6). This method employs deep-rooted vegetations that can extract the heavy metals from the soil and are usually uprooted after they mature and disposed as harmful waste. Certain brownfields can also be redeveloped by being used to grow crops that would eventually be used to generate bio-fuels (Sousa 8).
Brownfields are common pieces of land that lie idle and abandoned after traditional industrial activities that were previously carried in these areas cease to exist. Abandoned brownfields perpetuate various environmental implications that include soil, water and air pollution, environmental degradation and public health violation. Brownfield redevelopment should be the most appropriate solution that ought to be employed to revitalize abandoned brownfields thereby reviving their usefulness in business and agriculture. Redeveloping these sites would be beneficial as it would enhance land productivity, prevent health implications, pollution and environmental degradation. Remediation techniques can thus be employed to ensure that the core objective in redeveloping these sites is reached.
European Commission. “Brownfield Regeneration,” Journal of Sceince for Environment Policy, 2.39(2013):1-16.
Siikamaki, Juha. “Turning Brownfields into Greenspaces: Examining Incentives and Barriers to Revitalization”, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 33.3(2008):560-593.
Sousa, Christopher. Atlantic Station, Atlanta, Georgia: A Sustainable Brownfield Revitalization Best Practice,
US Environmental Protection Agency. Air and Water Quality Impacts of Brownfields Redevelopment, Viewed on 12th November from
Vermeer, Niels. External Benefits of Brownfield Redevelopment: An Applied Urban General Equilibrium Analysis, viewed on 12th November, 2014 from