Public Health and
What are brownfields?
Brownfields are defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as
"abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion
or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination."
Brownfield properties have a significant effect on local economies and property
development. At the local government level, the responsibility for revitalizing
brownfields is often with the planning, zoning, or economic development office. However,
local public health departments can have a strong role in supporting the redevelopment
efforts while assuring public safety.
There are brownfield properties in every community. Both tax assessors and taxpayers
easily recognize the economic effects of brownfields on neighborhood property values.
However, the public health impacts of these properties can be equally as important. The
task of investigating, cleaning up, and drawing businesses back to these properties is
very large. Efforts that support the redevelopment of brownfields also support the
interests of public health.
Brownfield Redevelopment Protects Public Health
There are many potential health hazards on brownfield properties. Most brownfields have
physical health hazards, such as uncovered holes, unsafe structures, and sharp objects.
Past industrial activities can leave behind chemical contamination or drums of chemical
wastes. When people enter these properties there is a chance that they may be injured or
exposed to toxic chemicals. While most adults show little interest in entering these
properties, children often use brownfields as playgrounds and places to explore.
Public health agencies also play an important role in the development of environmental
cleanup regulations. In recent years, increased flexibility in cleanup regulations have
meant that some properties may have less stringent cleanup requirements than others,
depending upon their significance to public health and the environment.
Cleaning up environmental contamination can be very expensive. Without incentives for
cleanup and redevelopment, contaminated properties may continue to pose public health
hazards long into the future. For this reason, brownfield redevelopment programs can
protect public health by removing health hazards from our communities.
Range of Public Health Involvement
- For many brownfield properties the problems and solutions may be obvious. For these
properties there may be little or no need for direct health agency involvement.
- For uncontaminated properties with lingering health questions, evaluation by health
agencies may reduce unwarranted concerns about redevelopment.
- For many brownfield properties, the intended future land use can determine what level of
contamination poses a health hazard. For these properties the health agencies involvement
can assure that redevelopment proceeds in a way that is protective of public health.
- For properties with widespread and complex contamination problems, health agencies can
play an important role in recognizing hazards, evaluating health risks, and recommending
appropriate cleanup actions.
For more information
Health related questions or the role of public health in brownfield redevelopment,
contact the Division of Public Health, (608) 266-1120.
For general information about brownfield redevelopment initiatives
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,
For more information about brownfield programs nationally, contact:
Protection Agency (EPA), Brownfields Program
U.S. Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Brownfield/Land Reuse
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August 11, 2014