What are Brownfields and National Priority List Sites?
In the U.S., an abandoned piece of land due to real or perceived contamination emanating from toxic chemicals, illegally dumped garbage or debris from dilapidated structures, like broken glass, rotting wood, and corroded pipes, is constituted as polluted. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are more than 450,000 polluted sites like these existing in the U.S.
They are considered as unfit for further use, particularly if there are existing underground storage tanks that were previously used for industrial or commercial purposes. Steel tanks are perceived to be dangerous since they corrode and leak residue of hazardous substances like petroleum and chemicals. Although invisible, the toxins are capable of causing harm to the community and its residents.
Nonetheless, the local cities or states, in which these polluted lands are located, may receive federal or state funding from the government via the EPA’s “Brownfields Program". Should the polluted land meet the EPA’s criteria and eligibility requirements, it becomes officially known as a “brownfield" and receives funding for clean-up, rehabilitation and redevelopment.
The objective of the clean-up program is to prevent hazardous elements released by underground storage tanks, and by the accumulation of debris and other forms of wastes from causing further damage to the environment and residents.
However, if a site is known to release hazardous contaminants that threaten the environment and human health, it is included in the EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL). Polluted lands included on the list are subject to EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, to determine which of the sites require further investigation that warrant immediate remedial actions.
There are three major criteria by which these sites become eligible for federal funding under the “Superfunds" NPL remedial program:
(1) A recommendation to relocate the residents is issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, by way of a health advisory.
(2) The polluted site is ascertained to be a major threat to public health.
(3) The EPA takes into consideration the cost-efficiency of placing the site under remedial actions over the use of emergency responses to remove the source of hazardous substances.
As of April 2011, there are 1290 polluted lands included under the NPL final listing. The land on the list was formerly utilized as:
- metal foundries,
- mining sites,
- dry-cleaning establishments, and,
- industrial sites engaged in the manufacture of pesticides, tires, paper, chemicals, electronics, machineries, ceramics, asbestos, solvents and wood treatments.
It also includes sites whose aquifers and groundwater sources have been proven to be contaminated.