The migration of manufacturing jobs from our central cities to suburban and overseas locations has led to the abandonment of industrial and commercial facilities. These sites, commonly known as "brownfields", are frequently eyesores that pose a drain on local communities. Though many of these sites are in prime real estate areas, environmental concerns have discouraged widespread redevelopment of the properties. The United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment estimates there may be as many as 500,000 brownfield sites in the United States.
Recognizing the tremendous value inherent in properties in the "brown portfolio" many states have established voluntary programs to encourage the redevelopment and reuse of these properties by reducing the environmental hurdles involved. A thorough property investigation begins with an inventory of potential environmental issues, and concludes with sufficient detail to enable the property owner to decide how to deal with the issues. Investigators who focus mainly on soil or groundwater contamination risk missing additional environmental issues, which may present difficult and costly problems during a redevelopment project. In some situations, regulations may dictate the course of action, but building-related issues are generally more involved. Upon discovery of a hazardous material in a building, for example, an owner typically has a choice of either removing the material or managing it in place. A building investigation should provide sufficient information regarding locations and quantities of the hazardous materials to enable a detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the options presented. Typical issues include:
Contaminated building surfaces: Brown buildings often contain residues from prior operations, such as hazardous dusts, condensed vapors or fumes, and spilled liquids. Residues tend to accumulate on building surfaces and in the ventilation system. Liquids may penetrate surfaces such as wood or concrete to a depth of several inches. If left unchecked, these contaminants may pose acute health hazards to renovation workers who inadvertently disturb them, or long-term health concerns to future tenants. Removing contamination can be time-consuming and costly. Early identification of the nature and extent of contaminated materials will help minimize renovation problems and may lead to innovative solutions that reduce costs.
Hazardous building materials: Older buildings often contain asbestos in building materials and insulation products. Chipping and peeling paint may contain high levels of lead. Waste characterization studies should also be conducted on building materials to evaluate possible disposal costs.
PCB-Containing Equipment: In older buildings, electrical and mechanical components and their surrounding building surfaces may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are strictly regulated hazardous chemicals. Federal regulations govern use of PCB containing materials. Identifying PCB equipment requires a thorough building inspection and testing program. Information on characteristics, conditions, and PCB classifications is necessary to estimate removal costs.
Physical building features. Physical features of a building may pose indoor and outdoor environmental problems. Pits, sumps, utility trenches, and drainage systems may contain raw, unfinished, or waste materials from previous operations in areas that may not ordinarily be inspected. These hidden reservoirs of contamination pose the potential to be both a source of outdoor pollution as hazardous materials seep into the underlying soil and groundwater, and a source of indoor pollution as hazardous materials are slowly released into the air in the building. These building features typically require cleaning to remove residual hazardous substances. Identification of cost-effective cleaning methods can be time-consuming, and specialized safety procedures can increase costs and result in delays if not accounted for during project planning.