New Urbanism and the Value of Site Cleanup

Site cleanup is well understood to be critical to the health of our planet. Since site contamination affects the quality of air, land, and water, it is clear that remediating contaminated sites is paramount to the environmental viability of the nation. However, site cleanup isn’t just about greening the nation; rather, site cleanup provides a myriad of environmental, health, and socioeconomic benefits, some of which may be surprising.

superfund site
View of the former Standard Chlorine site, later owned by Metachem Products, in New Castle, Delaware. The plant polluted groundwater, soil, and surface water with chlorobenzenes. EPA declared it a Superfund site in 1987. Photo shows deconstruction of manufacturing facility during the site remediation process. Wikipedia.

There are over 500,000 brownfields currently in the United States. A brownfield is defined as any land in the United States that is abandoned or underused because redevelopment of said site is complicated by environmental contamination. Brownfield sites are not to be confused with Superfund sites, of which there are over 1,300 in the United States. A Superfund site is a contaminated area of land that has been identified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as needing cleanup due to the risk it poses to environmental and/or human health. Superfund sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and are eligible for government funding through the Superfund program that was established as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). Unlike Superfund sites, brownfields generally do not pose an immediate or serious risk to the environment or human health, as they typically have a lesser degree of contamination. Brownfields do, however, compromise the economic and social viability of our nation by preventing development, which causes numerous problems.

urban sprawl
Toronto’s urban sprawl, Ontario, Canada, looking north from the CN Tower. Copyright 2006 Darren Kirby.

Because site cleanup can be expensive, brownfields are often left in states of ruin and decay. Brownfields disallow redevelopment, forcing communities to find new areas to develop, contributing to the degradation of inner cities and increased urban sprawl. Since we now understand that new urbanism — or the planning and development of compact cities that are walkable with accessible shopping and public spaces — promotes healthier cities and lifestyles, urban sprawl is also understood to be detrimental to the health of both cities and the environment. Cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields is one of the most effective ways to limit urban sprawl and to promote new urbanism, and fortunately, funding is available for brownfield remediation.

The EPA launched the Brownfields Program in 1995 to provide funding for brownfield remediation. The Brownfields Program includes the following grant programs:

  • Brownfields Assessment Grants: funding for Brownfields inventories, planning, environmental assessments, and community outreach
  • Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Grants: funding to capitalize loans that are used to clean up brownfields
  • Brownfields Cleanup Grants: funding to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites owned by the applicant
  • Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grants: funding to communities to research, plan, and develop implementation strategies for cleaning up and revitalizing a specific area affected by one or more brownfields sites
  • Brownfields Job Training Grants: funding for environmental training for residents of Brownfields communities

In 2002, the Program was expanded when Congress passed the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, more commonly known as the Brownfields Law. Since the enactment of the Brownfields Law, the EPA has awarded over 1,000 grants totaling over $200 million to public and private sector organizations.

brownfield site cleanup
Tata & Howard assisted WORK Inc. with preparation of a Brownfields Grant application and with environmental remediation at the site. Click photo for info.

Cleaning up brownfields not only promotes new urbanism by reducing urban sprawl and inner city decay, but also increases surrounding property values, resulting in an increased tax base. These cleaned up sites allow for the utilization of existing infrastructure and transit and therefore contribute to the economic health of cities by eliminating the need for additional municipal infrastructure. Site cleanup also helps to eliminate urban arson, vandalism, and the threat of injury from dilapidated structures and areas. Since site cleanup also reduces the need to develop open land, brownfield remediation contributes to the protection of our natural resources and environment while beautifying urban landscapes. In some instances, brownfield remediation even allows for the preservation of historical landmarks and architecture that would otherwise require demolition.

And let’s not forget about health. Site cleanup eliminates the contamination that threatens our environment. Our water, air, and soil is protected from the initial contamination as well as future contamination. Even when contamination is initially minimal, deteriorating buildings and abandoned property have the potential to increase contamination as degrading building components leach into the soil and water.

brownfield remediation
T&H assisted with environmental remediation at a brownfield site in Franklin, MA. Click photo for info.

One thing to keep in mind is there is some potential risk associated with brownfield remediation. If not managed or handled properly, contaminated soil could potentially result in further contamination by migrating to surrounding land through groundwater or even runoff into surface water. To significantly reduce these risks, it is recommended and often required to utilize an environmental professional when cleaning up brownfields. In Massachusetts, for example, it is required to have a Licensed Site Professional provide evaluation both before and after cleanup to ensure that all regulations, technologies, and construction best practices were strictly followed and that the contamination has been successfully remediated.

Site cleanup clearly has significant value when it comes to the health of our nation’s environment, economy, and citizens. More and more, communities are seeking to implement new urbanism and the gentrification of cities, forcing developers to seek ways to redevelop previously unusable land. With smart city planning, the availability of brownfield grants, and the utilization of environmental professionals, site cleanup will continue to provide significant value to the economic, environmental, and physical health of communities throughout the country for years to come.

Pollution Prevention Week – Tips for a Greener Future

pollution-prevention-week-2017Pollution Prevention Week takes place each year during the third week in September. This special week celebrates the passing of the Pollution Prevention Act in 1990, and serves as an opportunity for businesses, individuals, governments, organizations, and groups to focus on pollution prevention (P2) by celebrating their sustainability achievements, expanding current practices, and implementing new initiatives. In addition, P2 Week serves to remind individuals and organizations of the myriad ways that pollution can be prevented.

T&H provides UST services.

While many organizations and initiatives focus on recycling and mitigation, the most efficient and beneficial way to protect the environment is to avoid pollution in the first place. Once the environment has been compromised, it is much more labor intensive, energy intensive, and costly to return conditions to their natural state. For example, ensuring that double-walled Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) are maintained and in good condition is critical to the protection of groundwater and soil. When a UST leaks and contaminates the surrounding area, soil remediation is required, which in some cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, any contaminated water will require a much more comprehensive treatment train, leading to expensive infrastructure projects and higher operational costs for water utilities. Preventing the leak in the first place requires simple maintenance and monitoring, such as regular testing of leak detection systems, maintaining accurate inventory records, and maintaining spill buckets, which comes at a small fraction of the cost of clean-up activities to both the wallet and the environment.

Pollution prevention is just as important on an individual level. While the actions of one person may seem insignificant, the collective action of millions of individuals is monumental. In celebration of P2 Week, we’ve assembled 20 simple tips that we can all implement to minimize our environmental footprint.

  1. Make sure your home is well-insulated and has energy efficient windows.

    While not practical for everyone, chickens provide grub control, aeration, and fertilization for lawns.
  2. Practice environmentally-friendly lawn care (Here are 10 tips to start!)
  3. Use water-based paints and be sure to rinse paint brushes in the sink, where the water will eventually make its way to a wastewater treatment plant, and not outdoors, where the paint will end up in the groundwater.
  4. Utilize LED lights instead of fluorescents, which may contain mercury. When disposing of fluorescent bulbs, be sure to take them to a certified collection center.
  5. Plant trees. They help to keep the air clean.
  6. Utilize recycled content plastic lumber for decks. Plastic lumber lasts far longer than wood lumber and requires no painting.

    Fix leaks to conserve water.
  7. Fix leaks and install water saving faucets and fixtures. (Visit here for more water tips!)
  8. Compost kitchen scraps with worms. Bonus: you’ll get free, organic plant food.
  9. Always bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Worldwide, we throw away over one trillion plastic bags each year, many of which end up in our oceans.
  10. Buy products in the highest bulk possible to avoid excess packaging.
  11. Use non-toxic household cleaners and personal care products.
  12. Dispose all prescription drugs at a certified drop-off location. Do not flush! Prescriptions are wreaking havoc on our water supply.
  13. Use cloth napkins instead disposables, and washable rags instead of paper towels.
  14. Buy organically grown food. Pesticides contaminate our water and harm our environment.
  15. Use reusable glass containers for leftovers and lunches. Avoid plastic baggies and boxes.
  16. Lower household heat by a degree or two, and have the boiler serviced annually to increase efficiency.
  17. Be sure appliances are energy and water efficient, and only run the dishwasher and clothes washer with full loads.
  18. Carpool, walk, or bike to work, or use public transportation. If possible, work at home one day per week to save fuel and energy.
  19. Buy washable clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning. Dry cleaners are a large contributor to environmental contamination.
  20. Use rechargeable batteries, and be sure to dispose regular alkaline batteries at a certified drop-off location. Batteries can wreak havoc on our soil.

Do you have any other easy tips to prevent pollution? If so, share them in the comments. As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” At Tata & Howard, each of us looks forward to creating a greener, healthier future by doing our individual, small part to decrease pollution. Happy Pollution Prevention Week!



Environmental Remediation Services: Why You Should Always Get a Second Opinion

A second opinion on your environmental remediation plan can save you time and money

Thoroughly understanding site assessments and environmental remediation plans is always a challenge. Since most people aren’t familiar with hazardous waste laws, science, and jargon, it is difficult to know if your environmental consultants are making recommendations that are in your best interest. And while their plans may be sound, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion.

environmental remediationWhat is environmental remediation?

Environmental remediation services involve providing solutions to contamination issues, and include removing contaminants from groundwater, surface water, sediment, or soil, including cleaning up after an oil spill. Remediation is very often a governmental requirement or regulation that has the intent to protect people and the environment from exposure to contamination and its potential harmful effects. Limiting exposure can also involve institutional controls such as a deed restriction where remediation is not feasible or cost-effective.

What is an environmental remediation second opinion?

Oil removal

A second opinion includes an independent assessment of an environmental project to evaluate if the proposed remedial action plan is appropriate and that once it is implemented, is progressing satisfactorily and helps to ensure that potential receptors are being protected. These services typically include review of the proposed work plan, laboratory analyses of duplicate samples, observation of field activities performed by cleanup contractors or other consultants, review of documents for technical completeness, and invoice review to evaluate if charges are customary and reasonable.

To illustrate the importance of a second opinion, consider the following: Tata & Howard provided a second opinion to a client who had made a non-refundable $4,000,000 down payment on a property in an industrial area of Boston, MA. Initial assessment by a prior consultant identified petroleum related compounds and styrene in indoor air, the source of which was, according to them, an underground storage tank (UST) located outside the building. Tata & Howard’s assessment indicated that the styrene was actually from an unrelated source inside the building and that a level of No Significant Risk existed for presence of the petroleum related compounds. Remedial action was not necessary to achieve a condition of No Significant Risk and the clients did not lose their $4,000,000 deposit. Read the complete case study here.

The previous example saved the buyers on a number of levels. First, they did not lose their deposit. Second, they didn’t have to invest in a costly remedial action plan. And third, their ability to move quickly forward with the closing saved on time — and we all know that time is money.

site assessmentConclusion

Getting a second opinion will not only better help you to understand your options, but will often help save you money. Tests and analyses may provide a second set of findings, and a fresh set of eyes can often develop an alternate course of action that requires less time and fewer resources. Every site is unique, and every consulting firm has its own methodology. However, not everyone realizes that in today’s competitive economy, it is imperative to identify solutions that are both cost-effective and that can be applied with minimal disturbance to your business activities.

Environmental Remediation is Going Green

HW green remediation sprout and soilTata & Howard’s Hazardous Waste Group recently participated in the LSP Association’s Technical Practices Committee meeting which focused on MassDEP’s Green Remediation initiative. MassDEP is looking for involvement from the LSP community in drafting language for its updated guidelines that it hopes to roll out in May along with the new changes to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). According to Tom Potter, Clean Energy Development Coordinator from the MassDEP Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup (BWSC) Clean Energy Results Program (CERP), the ultimate goal is to make “greener remediation” a standard practice for all aspects of cleanup work under the MCP. BWSC recognizes that the LSP community plays a key role in the promotion and application of Green Remediation, which is why their input is being sought. The next MassDEP BWSC Green Remediation Workgroup meeting is scheduled for March 11 from 10am-12noon at MassDEP’s Boston Headquarters, and Tata & Howard will be in attendance.

For more information, please visit MassDEP’s website at or contact Joel Loitherstein, P.E.