Land Revitalization Summer '06 Newsletter – Hazardous waste sites: land reuse gains momentum
Ninety-three percent of the land at some of the most severely contaminated hazardous waste sites in the mid-Atlantic region is in productive use. More than half of the land at former Superfund sites has a new life as parks, wildlife areas, or recreation areas. Other former contaminated industrial sites where federal cleanups were required are new industrial sites, apartment houses, office buildings, and retail stores.
When EPA started cleaning up hazardous waste sites twenty years ago, citizens feared harmful health impacts and reduced real estate values. Developers shied away from land at severely contaminated waste sites. But communities want these properties back, and now, even early on in the environmental assessment phase, communities and developers are planning new uses.
"EPA and the states have been successful in working with communities and the private sector to clean up hazardous waste sites and transform them into community assets," said Donald S. Welsh, EPA mid-Atlantic regional administrator."EPA's cleanup programs are focusing more effort on facilitating reuse because a plan for reuse can accelerate the cleanup, provide economic benefits and protective long-term stewardship."
A new regional report shows how land is now being used at 511 hazardous waste sites being addressed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in the mid-Atlantic region. The region is comprised of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Information was collected on 174 Superfund national priority list sites, 280 RCRA corrective action facilities, and 57 federal facilities in the mid-Atlantic region. These 511 properties cover 230,494 acres, a land area equivalent to 10 Manhattan Islands.
Region 3 Hazardous Waste Cleanup Site Land Use and Reuse Assessment classifies land at the cleanup sites as: in continued use, reuse, planned reuse or no current use/vacant. The report looks at what kinds of reuse are occurring on the sites. The full report can be found at Brownfields and Land Revitalization Homepage . Specific cleanup successes are described on EPA's web site at Brownfields Success page.
Formerly Contaminated Land Can and Is Being Reused
- Once severely contaminated land is being put back into productive use. The majority of land at the sites reviewed is currently being used or has a plan for reuse - 93% of the total acres of all sites.
- Of the land at cleanup sites today, 81% (186,360 acres) continues to be used in the same general manner as when the site was found to be contaminated. These include active industrial and military sites.
- A significant number of cleanup sites have been converted to new uses - 109.
- On RCRA sites – about half the acres (5,421 acres) in reuse or planned for reuse are for non-industrial uses, such as commercial and mixed uses.
- The report shows that reuse can occur during all stages of environmental investigation and cleanup of the site.
Advantages of Reuse
- A 1997 EPA funded study concluded that every acre of brownfields reused preserves 4.5 acres of surrounding greenfields from development. Since almost 16,000 acres of Superfund and RCRA sites have been reused in the mid-Atlantic region, it is estimated that doing so has prevented 72,000 acres (about 112 square miles) from being developed.
- Reusing contaminated sites can provide significant benefits to the surrounding community. Economic or environmental benefits associated with reuse include:
- 38 sites reported a total of 24,986 local jobs created or retained.
- 13 sites reported reuse investments totaling nearly $4 billion.
- 23 sites reported open space or sustainable reuse on the site.
- 7 sites reported new housing construction totaling 189 new homes.
Opportunities for Reuse
The report does not contain site-specific information about areas for reuse. The decision as to whether and how vacant properties will be reused is up to the local community and individual property owners.
EPA and its state partners can help property owners and communities revitalize former cleanup sites by providing information to interested users, coordinating with other regulatory programs, incorporating reuse plans into cleanup designs, helping to resolve liability concerns, and expediting cleanup to support reuse.