Turning Brownfields into Green

If you're a private contractor looking for new business opportunities or a local government trying to encourage the redevelopment of contaminated property, then think "Brownfields."

The Brownfields Initiative (A.K.A. the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Program) aims to revitalize cities through the environmental cleanup and economic redevelopment of contaminated sites.

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conceived the initiative in 1995, more than 40 states and hundreds of counties and cities have complemented it with more regulatory flexibility and economic incentives.

Brownfields sites are typically commercial or industrial properties with actual or perceived contamination and a realistic potential for redevelopment. Classic brownfields sites are abandoned or unused former factory lots and buildings in urban areas.

The astute management of solid and hazardous wastes is critical to the successful brownfields restoration and reuse in three areas:

*building decontamination and demolition,

*industrial ecology processes and

*on-site reuse.

Cleaning up, Tearing down Decontamination and demolition costs are one of the most significant factors influencing brownfields redevelopment. Federal and state regulations governing asbestos abatement, demolition debris disposal and disposal of petroleum products and hazardous waste affect the methods - and the cost - for decontamination and demolition.

Some building decontamination does not necessarily lead to demolition (for example, building renovation). However, before any demolition or renovation can begin, a building should be decontaminated to comply with environmental regulation and to plan for waste management. Here, recycling can help offset cleanup costs.

Proper decontamination procedures help to:

*reduce future liability based on improper disposal of contaminated materials;

*identify hazards to site workers; and

*facilitate the recycling of waste.

Identify contaminated materials prior to renovation or demolition to prevent their mismanagement. This step will reduce the chance of sudden, significant impacts on project costs, schedules and liability.

However, note that identifying all contaminated materials can be difficult because some may be hidden in structures where they cannot be sampled easily.

An appropriate pre-demolition survey or a hazardous materials inventory and characterization includes:

*a records search,

*querying former employees,

*an inspection and

*a sample collection and analysis.

Following are waste management options for decontaminating material:

*Asbestos-Containing Materials. Asbestos often is found in specific building components: insulation over boilers and pipes, boiler room walls and ceilings, vinyl floor backing, roofing material, plaster, boiler brick and mortar, window caulking, and fireproofing material. In nearly all cases, asbestos is landfilled and never recycled.

*Lead. Analytical testing can determine the presence of lead-based paint. A portable x-ray fluorescence detector measures lead levels in the field or samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis by more sophisticated techniques such as atomic spectrometry or inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry.

Lead-painted metal often can be recycled. Lead contained in batteries can be sent to a metal recycler. Other hazardous waste materials are disposed of in a RCRA permitted secure landfill or other treatment, storage and disposal facilities.

*PCBs. Building-related uses of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) include:

*electrical equipment (transformers, capacitors, light ballasts);

*heat transfer systems;

*hydraulic fluids;

*manufacturing by-products; and

*organic solvents.

PCB presence is verified in laboratories using packed column gas chromatography with electron capture detection. Field-screening kits are used for initial assessments.

Many specialty companies will dismantle light ballasts and incinerate the PCB-containing components and properly dispose of or recycle the non-PCB portions.

*Abandoned Chemical and Petroleum Products and Waste. The types of chemical-laden materials that can be present are numerous (paints, oils, pesticides, herbicides and cleaning solvents are only a few examples).

Liquid petroleum products usually are recycled by contractors who process and blend the waste oil to produce a waste oil fuel which is burned in industrial boilers and furnaces.

Solid materials either are landfilled, chemically separated or thermally treated. Thermal desorption facilities can treat soils and other materials at a cost competitive with landfilling.

*Mercury. Mercury can be found in: electrical switches, fluorescent light bulbs and heating or manufacturing equipment gauges.

Specialty contractors process fluorescent light bulbs to separate the mercury for refining. The remaining glass and steel components are recycled. *Demolition Wastes. Recycling methods are preferred for demolition wastes because they conserve resources and minimize the long-term liability of landfilling, which does not destroy the specific contaminants.

In some cases, the revenue from selling demolition debris can offset decontamination and demolition costs substantially. For example, during the demolition of a coal-fired power plant, more than 15,000 tons of metal and more than 2,000 truckloads (or approximately 40,000 tons) of building debris was recycled.

More than 70 percent of the $5 million project bid award for decontamination, demolition and removal was recovered through recycling the materials.

Following are some demolition material management options:

*Asphalt can be recycled by using it (along with earth components) in manufacturing new asphalt pavement. It also can be used as clean fill (on- or off-site) if allowed by local and state regulations.

*Electrical Wiring and Fixtures: Metal components are recycled; other components typically are landfilled.

*Insulation traditionally is found in non-asbestos building, rigid polystyrene, fiberglass bat and roofing materials. It is disposed of in bulky waste or landfilled, depending on state and local regulations.

*Masonry and Rubble, which includes bricks, cinder blocks, concrete, mortar, porcelain, rock, stone and tile, can be used as clean fill or can be recycled.

Processing such as crushing may be required, if allowed by state and local regulations.

*Metal, which is usually found in plumbing, electrical, gutters, sheet metal, structural steel, rebar and stud products, can be recycled profitably. It usually is sold to a scrap-metal dealer who, in turn, sells the scrap to a smelter for recycling.

*Plastics often are found in pipe, styrofoam, vinyl siding and laminate. These items can be recycled economically if a local market exists. Otherwise, they may be disposed of in a bulky waste landfill.

*Roofing materials, including non-asbestos shingles, built-up roofing material and tar paper, can be recycled as an aggregate in asphalt pavements or can be disposed of in a bulky waste landfill.

*Vinyl is obtained frequently from siding, flooring, doors and windows. Some if these items can be reused if they are removed intact. Otherwise, they may be disposed of in a bulky waste or solid waste disposal area as allowed by local or state regulations.

Industrial Ecology Processes Waste-based manufacturing is a vital component of what some environmental policymakers call "industrial ecology." A growing number of businesses are using industrial wastes (such as paper, plastic, wood, sediment, agricultural matter and building demolition debris) as feedstock for new products.

Since the feedstock for recycling-related manufacturers often is generated from municipal waste collection programs, cities can direct feedstock to industries that will benefit their communities. (Since the recycling/ reuse business is labor-intensive it also leads to more jobs for lower-skilled workers.)

While cities benefit from lower volumes of wastes being landfilled, businesses can benefit from lower disposal costs. Take, for example, the case of a former steel plant in Bridgeport, Conn., a 60-building facility that was decontaminated, demolished and removed.

Due in part to the site's proximity to the ready markets for paper in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia (600 tons of used newspapers and magazines could be transported to the facility daily on barges, rail and trucks), an investment group is planning to build a $230 million paper recycling plant on the site.

Brownfields initiatives, if wedded to industrial ecology projects, could help promote environmental and economic health. As scrap-based manufacturers locate in specific areas, brownfields site restoration projects can provide them with feedstock.

In turn, the increasing number and availability of cleaned-up brownfields can attract other businesses to locate in the area, creating more jobs and tax revenues.

On-Site Reuse In some cases, the use of waste material can be built into the redevelopment design process of a brownfields restoration and reuse project.

For example, a former Massachusetts resort that was restored to create open space and conservation land contained approximately 40 structures, two landfills (one containing PCB wastes), underground storage tanks, a skeet-shooting range, wastewater treatment lagoons and miscellaneous oil and hazardous material containers.

Prior to demolition, all regulated building materials were removed. The debris was segregated by type, and some of it was recycled or disposed of off-site. However, all asphalt, brick and concrete were reused on-site as backfill.

During the closure of the resort's golf course landfill, a cap was designed to incorporate the on-site use of additional contaminated soils.

Approximately 1,800 cubic yards of lead-impacted soil was excavated from the skeet range, stabilized using an on-site treatment process and then used as a landfill cap component.

Additionally, about 2,000 cubic yards of PCB-impacted soil excavated from the gun club landfill was placed within the golf course landfill prior to the construction of the landfill cap.

Because of past successes and an increasing governmental awareness of their potential, brownfields projects may become more common. And while these projects' primary goal is the economic redevelopment of currently useless, and possibly dangerous property, the only way to move the site from contamination to productivity is through the basic waste industry system.