Frequently Asked Questions
On this page:
- Does EPA maintain an inventory of all brownfield sites within the U.S.?
- Without a national inventory of all brownfield sites, why does EPA think there could be somewhere between 450,000-1 million brownfield sites in the U.S.?
- Are there brownfield sites in my community? How can I find out?
- Does EPA assess brownfield sites?
- Does EPA clean up brownfield sites?
- Who regulates and enforces assessment and cleanup standards to address environmental contamination at brownfield sites?
- What resources does EPA have to support brownfields planning, assessment, cleanup, reuse and job training activities?
- Are all brownfield sites eligible to receive EPA grant funding for assessment and cleanup?
- When will the next round of Brownfield grants be offered?
- Can EPA grant funds be used on privately-owned properties?
- What is ACRES?
- If I didn't cause the environmental contamination on my property, who is responsible for cleaning it up?
- How can I protect myself from CERCLA liability?
- I want to buy a commercial property. What do I need to do to protect myself from environmental liability?
Here are answers to some of the often-asked questions about EPA's Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program:
No. EPA does not maintain a list of every brownfield site within the U.S.
EPA does have information on brownfields properties assessed and cleaned up with the use of EPA Brownfields funding. You can use EPA's Cleanups in My Community platform to access information on brownfield sites addressed by EPA grantees using brownfields grant funding. Cleanups in My Community includes property-specific information reported to EPA by recipients of brownfield grants for assessment or cleanup. Brownfields property reporting by grant recipients has been required since 2003.
Your State or Tribal Brownfields Response Program may also retain maps or inventories of known brownfield sites within their jurisdictions. This information may be publicly available on state and tribal websites.
In 2004, GAO reported that an estimated 450,000 to 1 million brownfields—properties whose redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances—sit abandoned or underused across the country. GAO based this estimate on their previous inventories of hazardous waste sites as well as reviews of state, local public interest group brownfields intiatives.References: GAO-05-94 report December 2004 and GAO-05-450T testimony before the Subcommittee on Federalism and the Census, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives April 2005.
The original concept of a “brownfield site” generally included only industrial or commercial properties, with no inclusion of residential properties or other types of sites. However, the 2002 Brownfields Amendments to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) expanded the concept of brownfields to allow inclusion of residential properties and other property types. The addition of ”mine-scarred land,” sites “contaminated by [certain] controlled substance[s]” (e.g., meth labs) and certain sites “contaminated by petroleum or a petroleum product” added new types of sites that were not included within the scope of previous surveys.
Since GAO’s estimate remains the best available, EPA continues to use the general range of 450,000 – 1 million brownfield sites. We use this range to depict that the number of brownfields is very large and that brownfields are quite common, likely found in every city or town in the nation.
Since environmentally contaminated properties are commonly found many areas, there may be several brownfields in your community. These sites can include closed dry cleaners, auto-body shops, abandoned gas stations, industrial properties, and even residential areas. See Understanding Brownfields for more information about what brownfields might look like in your community.
You can use EPA’s Cleanups in My Community (CIMC) platform to access information on the location and conditions of brownfield sites that were or are in the process of being addressed using funding received from the EPA Brownfields Program. Please note that CIMC captures all brownfields addressed using funding received from EPA since 2003. It does not reflect a complete list of all brownfields within the U.S.
You can also search state and local databases for information on brownfields locations and status, including properties currently under investigation or planned for future investigation. Some state and local websites also may provide access to Phase I or Phase II Environmental Site Investigation reports. These reports will provide information regarding whether there are recognized environmental conditions on the property.
EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program performs a limited number ofTargeted Brownfields Assessments (TBA) each year. Please work with your EPA Regional Brownfields staff to learn more about this program.
In addition, EPA awards competitive grants to government entities and certain non-profit organizations that can be used to pay for brownfields assessment and planning activities at one or more brownfield sites.
EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program does not perform cleanup activities at brownfield sites. The program instead awards competitive grants to government entities and certain non-profit organizations that can be used for cleanup activities at one or more brownfield sites.
States and Tribal governments are responsible for establishing and enforcing assessment and cleanup standards for addressing environmental contamination at brownfield sites. States and Tribes also oversee cleanup activities at sites enrolled in state and tribal voluntary cleanup programs.
EPA's Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program provides grants and to assist eligible recipients:
- Conduct site characterization and assessment activities, as well as planning, inventorying, and public participation activities;
- Conduct cleanup activities at brownfields;
- Develop and implement environmental job training; and
- Support State and Tribal Response Programs.
In addition, EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program provides technical assistance to brownfields communities. Local community organizations and municipal leaders experiencing brownfields-related challenges may be interested in receiving assistance from various EPA technical assistance providers. You do not need to be an EPA brownfields grantee to receive technical assistance.
EPA developed several land revitalization tools and guides to support and encourage the sustainable redevelop of brownfields These tools are based on our experiences with past land revitalization technical assistance projects.
No. CERCLA prohibits EPA brownfields grant funds from being used at certain sites, including the following:
- Sites listed or proposed for listing on the National Priorities List
- Sites subject to unilateral administrative orders, court orders, administrative orders on consent, or judicial consent decrees issued to or entered into by parties under CERCLA and other statutes
- Certain sites subject to the jurisdiction, custody, or control of the U.S. government
- Sites for which the brownfields grantee could be found liable for the contamination at the property
Please see Information on Sites Eligible for Brownfields Funding under CERCLA § 104(k) for applicable eligibility restrictions.
Each year, EPA provides an opportunity for government entities and certain non-profit organization to compete for grants to assess and cleanup brownfields. Grant proposal guidelines are typically posted to the EPA website and on grants.gov in late Summer/early Fall. You can sign up on the EPA Brownfields Listserv to receive notifications of grant availability. You can also monitor open, closed and upcoming grant competitions on our website.
In certain circumstances, EPA brownfields grant funds can be used on privately-owned properties. Brownfield assessment grants can be used by eligible entities to pay for site assessment activities on privately-owned sites, and loans from Revolving Loan Fund grants can be provided to private entities to pay for cleanup activities at privately-owned properties.
Please note, EPA brownfields grant funds cannot be used to fund assessment and cleanup activities at brownfields properties where the grant recipient may be found liable for the contamination.
ACRES (the Assessment, Cleanup and Redevelopment Exchange System) is an online database. EPA Brownfields grantees report data and accomplishments related to their grant into ACRES.
Under CERCLA, a person may be held strictly liable for cleaning up hazardous substances at properties that they either currently own or operate, or owned or operated in the past, during the time when hazardous substances were managed at the property.
“Strict liability” under CERCLA means that liability for environmental contamination may be assigned based solely on property ownership.
CERCLA provides liability protections (exemptions and defenses) for certain landowners and potential property owners who did not cause or contribute to contamination at the property, and can demonstrate compliance with specific provisions outlined in the statute, including conducting all appropriate inquiries (AAI) into present and past uses of the property.
For Brownfield grant purposes, any entity purchasing or leasing property should first understand how CERCLA liability may apply to them as a potential site owner or tenant. For more information see EPA’s Common Elements and Other Landowner Liability Guidance and obtain private legal counsel.
CERCLA provides certain exemptions from liability, as well as defenses to liability. These liability protections are self-implementing.
Potential property owners or tenants (including state and local governments) must conduct All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) before acquiring the property and comply with all continuing obligations after acquiring the property to claim any of the defenses to CERCLA liability.
If you are not exempt from liability under CERCLA, then you need to establish a defense to liability under CERCLA. Learn more about CERCLA liability protections and how to conduct AAI prior to purchasing the property by consulting the resources mentioned above and by obtaining private legal counsel.