Brownfields: A Local Environmental Health Opportunity?

By Carroll, Ann | Journal of Environmental Health, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Brownfields: A Local Environmental Health Opportunity?


Carroll, Ann, Journal of Environmental Health


Editor's note: As part of our effort to highlight innovative approaches to improving the environment and the health of communities, the Journal is featuring a bimonthly column from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPAs) new Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) program. Since the CARE program is designed to work with and support community-based efforts to understand and address local environmental health concerns, we think this column will be of interest to a broad range of environmental health professionals. The CARE program will report here on the activities and lessons learned from CARE communities across the nation and describe the broad range of U.S. EPA resources and programs available to support local environmental health initiatives. The purpose of this column is to keep readers up to date on CARE's progress in building a partnership that spans federal, state, and local environmental and environmental health agencies to improve support for communities. We believe that the column is an indication of U.S. EPA's commitment to joining with environmental health professionals to better meet the needs of communities, and we are pleased to make it available to our readers.

Ann Carroll, the author of this month's installment, works in U.S. EPA's Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization, where she leads activities to link brownfields cleanup, redevelopment, and long-term stewardship with improving public health and the environment. Before taking that position, she worked in private consulting with the National Governor's Association and U.S. EPA, and managed the Lead Reference Center of the NSW Environmental Protection Authority in Sydney, Australia.

This article explores the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) Brownfields program, including its work with local health departments and the opportunities to link these collaborations with U.S. EPA Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) and local health department programs for the benefit of communities across the country. Despite their unique approaches, these efforts are becoming more entwined as they find themselves working toward very similar goals in local communities.

For some time now, U.S. EPA has been aware of the benefit of working with communities directly to improve the quality of their environments in a manner which involves community residents and other stakeholders. U.S. EPA Brownfields program began in response to community concerns about blight, disinvestment, and environmental contamination in the 1990s. The CARE program began in its present form in 2004 to assist communities in identifying and addressing their environmental health priorities. From the beginning, both programs evolved out of the need to improve community health and the environment.

As background to the Brownfields program, U.S. EPA's pilot Brownfields grant of $200,000 was to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1993. The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, signed into law in 2002, expanded U.S. EPA's funds, making new sites eligible for Brownfields funding. It defined a brownfield as "real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant." New sites include those "contaminated by a controlled substance" (e.g., a meth lab), "contaminated by petroleum or a petroleum product," or "mine-scarred land." U.S. EPA continues to partner with states and tribes, environmental justice advocates, developers, and lenders to bring new life to blighted areas through the Brownfields program (as well as through CARE and environmental justice programs).

In May 2007, U.S. EPA announced 296 new Brownfields grants totaling about $70 million, bringing total funds to $1.3 billion nationwide since 1993. In addition, the direct U.S. EPA funding for Brownfields grants has leveraged an additional $9. …

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