216 Stelton Road
Piscataway NJ 08854
Brownfields are sites that are currently abandoned and are either contaminated with known or unknown hazardous materials, or are potentially contaminated. These sites tend to be old industrial plants, research and development labs, or other properties where toxic materials were used in the past. How is this different from a Superfund site? Brownfields can be on the NPL or purposed for listing, but they do not have to be. To be listed as a brownfield the site has to be real property, and they tend to have permanent facilities on them; opposed to NPL sites which can be dumpsites or landfills.
Brownfields tend to be an urban problem, and usually blight downtown areas. These sites lay abandoned because of the uncertainty of quantity and or type of contamination. CERCLA is designed in such a way that a developer can be held liable for clean up of hazardous materials found on a property, even if they did not own the site when the original contamination occurred. This has lead developers to avoid potential brownfield sites for redevelopment. As a result these sites lay abandoned and useless.
On the surface brownfields are an environmental problem because of the potential environmental contamination and the public health implications. However, there is much more to the issue than that. Because developers do not wish to shoulder the burden a contaminated site would create, they tend to search for sites that are clean. These sites, called "greenfields", are typically found in areas that have yet to be industrialized, the suburbs. Thus, developers add to the growing problem of urban sprawl and land use. If developers could be ensured they would not be held liable for clean up costs created by previous contamination we could build up, not out, in our major cities.
Remediating brownfields have other benefits aside from the environmental benefits. Currently these sites are abandoned; redevelopment would result in viable industrial or commercial spaces. These businesses would increase a city's tax base. With many of our older, industrial cities fighting suburbanization, an influx of revenue would be welcome. Added businesses would also increase the economic viability of a city. Some brownfields are cleaned up to the point where residential buildings can be put in, which can gentrify the inner city, and create more affordable housing at the same time. Cleaning up these sites can also have a positive effect on the surrounding community. The clean up process and subsequent construction creates local job opportunities. Community ties can grow, and citizens can feel better about where they live once these eyesores are cleaned up and put to productive use.
As with sites contaminated with hazardous wastes, it is important to catalogue brownfields, so the Department of Environmental Protection knows where the sites are, and can begin the process of cleaning them up in an efficient manner. To facilitate this process, Senator Smith passed Public Law 2005, chapter 365 which required an inventory of brownfields in the State. The law also requires annual progress reports from the Brownfields Redevelopment Task Force.