Introduction to Site Cleanup

The process of investigating and cleaning up a polluted site begins, not surprisingly, with the discovery of the problem. Over time, the process moves through a series of steps designed to answer several key questions: What contaminants are on the site? What media (soils, ground water, surface water) have been affected? What risks to human health and the environment do the contaminants pose? What should be done about the contamination (ranging from "do nothing" to "dig up everything and haul it away").

This site examines this process from the regulatory perspectives of both the EPA Superfund and Brownfields programs. Along the way, we tackle other important questions, all the while keeping our focus on polluted sites: What is the role of local communities in this process? How can polluted sites be returned to productive use, either as redeveloped land or as open space? How can local communities finance site cleanup and redevelopment?

Think of EnviroTools as your personal guide to involving your community in the site cleanup process. If all you need a basic tool, such as a guide to Understanding Ground Water, this is your site. If you're looking for a comprehensive examination of Baseline Environmental Assessment under the Brownfields program, again, this is your site.

Our goal here is to empower you to participate in the cleanup process through information and education. We hope you enjoy your visit and that you come back often. And let us know what you'd like to see or if you have questions.

Cleaning up a polluted site is a complex and challenging undertaking for any community. Dividing this project into smaller, manageable steps makes this large task manageable and less intimidating. On the right are steps you can take to clean up the polluted site in your area. Links to each of the following steps provides fact sheets and presentations to help you make better decisions to clean up a polluted site. For timely and cost effective cleanup, envision the outcome of the whole project before proceeding with the work of any given step.

Preparing Brownfields and Superfund sites for productive reuse requires the integration of many elements-financing, community involvement, liability considerations, environmental assessment and cleanup, regulatory requirements, and more-as well as coordination among many groups of stakeholders.  The assessment and cleanup of a site must be carried out in a way that integrates all those factors into the overall redevelopment process.  In addition, the cleanup strategy will vary from site to site.  At some sites, cleanup will be completed before the property is transferred to new owners.  At other sites, cleanup may take place simultaneously with construction and redevelopment activities.  Regardless of when and how cleanup is accomplished, the challenge to any cleanup program is to clean up sites quickly and redevelop the land in ways that benefit communities and local economies. 

The Steps

1. Community Participation - Working with the community from the beginning can save both time and money, expedite the approval process and result in an outcome that has broad public support.

2. Environmental Assessment - Before taking care of a problem, the problem must be examined. Assessments range from Baseline Environmental Assessment (BEA) to Remedial Investigation Feasibility Study (RIFS).

3. Pollutant Behavior - fate, transport, and exposure of pollutants

4. Health Effects - human and environmental health, toxicology, epidemiology, dose response

5. Risk Assessment - 1) risk assessment is a tool to make informed decisions. Health risks are measured by toxicity of pollutant times exposure to the pollutant. 2) risk management is reducing risks that are unacceptable.

6. Regulations and Legal Considerations - local, state and federal laws

7. Financing - Financial tools to help municipalities and developers redevelop contaminated lands. In this step you explore all the possible funding sources including loans, grants, tax credits, training funds and funds from local, state and federal sources.

8. Remediation - Technical solutions to clean up or eliminate problem by either appropriate remediation technologies

9. Redevelopment - This step includes whatever happens to the site once it is cleaned up. is created at Michigan State University and is sponsored by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  If you have comments or questions, please contact us.