Brownfield remediation is a process in which contamination at brownfield sites is addressed so that the sites can be redeveloped. Redevelopment of brownfields is important to many communities for a variety of reasons, ranging from wanting to preserve undeveloped land to a desire to make previously unusable contaminated land usable so that it can be part of the community. Because the environmental cleanup can be very complicated legally and environmentally, brownfield remediation often involves government agencies.
A brownfield is an area of land which was used for commercial or industrial uses, and then abandoned. Some brownfields are actually perfectly usable, and simply haven't been targeted for redevelopment, but most have some form of contamination which needs to be addressed before the land can be used. During the brownfield remediation process, the contamination is identified and addressed. Cleanup efforts can include actively removing contaminants, isolating contaminants so that they cannot leak into the environment, or just re-zoning the land for a use which allows the presence of some contaminants.
Redevelopment of brownfields is important for a number of reasons. From an environmental perspective, cleanup of contamination is important because it reduces the release of harmful contaminants into the environment, making the environment safer. Environmental cleanup can reduce health problems in the neighboring community and support plant and animal life. Additionally, by developing brownfields, people are ensuring that land is fully utilized, rather than spreading out and utilizing previously undisturbed land which might be providing habitat for animals or an environmental buffer.
From a community perspective, brownfield remediation can also be very helpful. Developing brownfields can improve property values by making neighborhoods more desirable, and it can bring development back into a community, rather than allowing it to go elsewhere. Developing brownfields can create jobs in depressed areas, revitalize many areas of town, and free up land resources for projects like parks for children or community gardens.
Managing brownfields is complex because the liability for the contamination may not be obvious. It is sometimes hard to determine who should be responsible for the cleanup, which can translate into years of legal wrangling. Government agencies may step in and perform the cleanup, with the hopes of recovering the costs later in court once the issue of responsibility for the site has been sorted out. Private environmental organizations may also perform cleanup, or developers may take on the responsibility of brownfield remediation in exchange for concessions from the community.