Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites—many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.
The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years—the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.
Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed?
Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on www.climate.gov, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.
But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable—children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources—are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.
Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.
Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.
Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.
A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.
Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.
The Hazard and Vulnerability Research Institute website maps look at demographic factors that contribute to vulnerability.
About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for over ten years. She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse. Ann is working on a doctorate in Environmental Health at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Reprinted with permission from Environmental Justice in Action: Blogging About Efforts to Achieve Environmental Justice in Overburdened Communities, a blog from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.