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Land Revitalization Winter '08 Newsletter – How Green is Your Cleanup?

Sustainable brownfields redevelopment integrates green building and landscape design into the project scope.  Region 3’s RCRA Corrective Action Program embarked on a pilot with DuPont to see if it is feasible to factor a shade of green into the cleanup portion of a redevelopment project at a former nylon manufacturing facility. 

The Corrective Action program requires remedies to:  protect human health and the environment; meet cleanup objectives; and control sources to the extent practicable.  Once these criteria are met, remedies are then evaluated against balancing factors such as long term protectiveness, short term risks, cost and community acceptance.  The objective of the DuPont pilot is to develop a “sustainability” balancing factor to compare remediation alternatives. 

The sustainability factor that DuPont proposed was a matrix of quantifiable components with a credit and debit approach.  These components continue to evolve but include:  energy (kWh); carbon output (CO2 equivalents), soil and solid material use (tons); land use (acres) and water use (gallons).    For example, reuse of soil is a credit, while off-site disposal of soil is a debit.

The most complicated component to calculate is CO2 , which is estimated through a life cycle analysis.  In general terms, the CO2 estimate includes debits for the carbon output from fuel and consumables used to build and maintain the remedy and credits for activities that sequester CO2 over the life of the remedy.  Credits for sequestration could be achieved through activities such as planting of trees as well as through destruction of the global warming potential from contaminants.  Certain contaminants (e.g.  chlorofluorocarbons, carbon tetrachloride) contribute a significant amount of carbon dioxide when released to the environment.  Credit for contaminant destruction would promote more aggressive cleanup technologies and less long term maintenance, which is more sustainable.  This approach also aligns with EPA’s “preference for treatment policy” in the cleanup programs.  If a developer could receive carbon credits for contaminant treatment, some “up side down” properties might turn “right side up.”

EPA and DuPont jointly developed a list of cleanup options that were screened against the criteria noted above. Through the credit and debit approach, DuPont calculated the potential net environmental impact of the various cleanup options.  Surprisingly, these calculations showed over an order of magnitude difference across the different cleanup options for many of the components in the matrix.  

This is the first quantitative evaluation of the environmental impact of remedy alternatives.  This information will lead to a better understanding of the total environmental impact associated with the various cleanup options, and allow EPA and DuPont to consider innovative strategies.

Development of a rating system to “capture” cleanup efficiency could guide and stimulate efficient, cost effective, low impact site remediation by encouraging property owners, developers and communities to go beyond state and federal requirements in their remediation and revitalization projects. Similar to the LEED certification program which promotes sustainable design in building, sustainability factors could conceivably be applied to the cleanup portion of a brownfield project and be advanced through a similar third party certification system.   Options to make cleanups greener include using low sulfur diesel to operate construction equipment, using renewable (e.g. wind, solar) energy to power a remedial system, recycling material and increasing site vegetation.

Everyone wants to be green these days.  You turn on the TV and you see commercials about oil companies building windmills. Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, the term “green building” no longer needs explanation. It’s now time to green the cleanup phase of brownfield revitalization to truly maximize the net environmental benefit.

Article Contributed by:
Deborah Goldblum, RCRA Corrective Action Revitalization Coordinator 

Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

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