The EPA defines brownfields as abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. Along with being unattractive, brownfields are usually contaminated with hazardous materials and pose hazards to neighbors and communities. Many underestimate the negative externalities that come along with former factories, parking lots, and railroads sitting idle. These vacant properties cause neighbors to fear property value loss and influence businesses to seek out more desirable property causing sprawl into greener areas.

The EPA’s Brownfields program was started in 1995 and since then the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act has been codified. The act provides funding for assessment and clean-up of brownfields under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA. Although the federal law applies to brownfield cleanup, most brownfields are regulated by the states. Many states have voluntary cleanup or state specific Brownfield programs that specify the eligibility requirements for applicants.

Redeveloping brownfields bring benefits to the community and environment, eliminates health and safety hazards, increases the productivity of the land, and increases property values and tax receipts for the local government. The EPA conducted a study in 5 cities(Seattle, WA, Baltimore, MD, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, Emeryville, CA, Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) that demonstrated that the redevelopment of brownfields in cities brought about environmental benefits to the area.


Key Points

1) Microbeads and other plastic pollutants can linger in the environment for over 50 years, slowly accumulating toxins and working up the food chain.

2) The Great Lakes account for 20% of the world’s freshwater, yet host an average of 17,000 pieces of microbeads per square kilometer. (NPR)

3) More than 11,000 pounds of microbeads are annually added to Wisconsin waterways alone. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

4) Companies like L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to phase out microbeads, but it’s unclear whether they will use sustainable alternatives or other plastics.



This study examined 163 brownfield sites in five cities, comparing their impacts with those of sites where development was likely to go had the brownfields not been available. This study was conducted by the EPA Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization and the EPA Office of Sustainable Communities.


The Clean Air/Brownfields Pilot Project was initiated by The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to examine the potential for clean air policies to impact brownfields redevelopment goals.


Public Opinion

  •  78 percent of Americans say the government should limit greenhouse gasses, while 66 percent say they are more likely to vote for a candidate that advocates action to reduce GHGs. — New York Times/Standard poll, 2015
  • 69 percent of adults consider climate change “serious,” an increase since 2008. — New York Times, 2015

  • 70 percent of Hispanics and 56 percent of African-Americans believe the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. — Pew Research Center, 2015

Read more polling results he