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What Is a Brownfield?

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Photo of overgrown creek with derelict industrial building.

The London 2012 Olympic Park was built on a brownfield site, neglected urban land of empty buildings, giant electrical towers, and contaminated soil and waterways.

Press photo of Pudding Mill Lane river in 2007 ©Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), London 2012
Definition:

A brownfield is an area of neglected land that is difficult to develop because of the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the property. Expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of a brownfield site is complicated by years of neglect.

Brownfield sites are often in urban areas, but not always. The rural Holyoke Mountain Road in Massachusetts, used for over 50 years for firing range practice by the state's National Guard, is contaminated with a high concentration of lead. The City of Holyoke, with technical and financial assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is committed to smart growth and sustainable reuse of this land.

The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S The EPA's Brownfields Program provides financial incentives for states, local communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields in the U.S.

The Brownfields Site definition is found in Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869), Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act signed into law January 11, 2002.

Sources: EPA Brownfields Definition, EPA Basic Information, EPA Land Revitalization Success Stories 2011 (PDF), EPA website accessed July 31, 2012

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