Uncontrolled disposal of industrial waste creates adverse impacts on public health and the environment. Materials that may constitute a hazardous waste include petroleum products, pesticides, organic compounds, heavy metals, or other compounds injurious to human health and the environment. At uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites, pollutants can seep into the ground, flow into rivers and lakes, and contaminate soil and groundwater.
Contaminated sites may be encountered during transit projects that involve construction, such as the development of a light rail line or building of a maintenance facility. The nature and extent of contamination can vary widely, and early detection, evaluation, and remediation of hazardous waste is essential to ensure minimization of project delays and protection of the environment.
Several federal laws have been established to ensure remediation of contaminated sites. These laws include the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or "Superfund"), the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program.
The Brownfields Initiative is an outgrowth of over two decades of efforts to manage contaminated properties and to implement CERCLA and RCRA. Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial properties where improvement or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination. The Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative, administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), provides assistance and incentives to states, local communities, and the private sector for the assessment, cleanup, and economic reuse of contaminated properties. The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently adopted a policy supporting the Brownfields Initiative by encouraging participation in transportation projects that include the use and redevelopment of contaminated sites, when appropriate.
Generally, every project that includes the purchase of new right-of-way, excavation, and/or structure demolition or modification will require at least an initial site assessment to determine if there is any known or potential hazardous waste within the proposed project limits. The proper due diligence procedures should be followed in order to limit liability. Due diligence involves conducting a Phase I environmental site assessment in accordance with USEPA’s All Appropriate Inquiries Rule. A Phase I environmental assessment will determine prior uses and ownership of a property and assess conditions at the property that may be indicative of releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances at, on, in, or to the property, known as Recognized Environmental Conditions (REC). The Phase I assessment consists of a thorough historical records search and site visit conducted by an environmental professional. If RECs are identified a Phase II Assessment may be conducted to sample and analyze the nature and extent of the hazards that may have been identified on site.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), (42 U.S.C. 9601, et seq) - Provide for liability, compensation, cleanup, and emergency response for hazardous substances released into the environment and the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites.
- Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act - CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986.
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), as amended, (42 U.S.C. 6901, et seq) - Regulates the treatment, storage, transportation, and disposal of solid hazardous waste. Subtitle I establishes regulatory program that prevents, detects, and cleans up releases from underground storage tank systems (USTs) containing petroleum or hazardous substances.
- USDOT Brownfields Strategy Action Plan (PDF), December 1996 - Sets forth the USDOT’s policy on supporting transportation-related brownfields redevelopment.
- FHWA and FTA Policy on Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative, December 1996 - Reaffirms USDOT’s policy in FHWA and FTA programs.
- USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater, Earth Day Brownfields Policy Announcement, April 1998 - Press release.
- USDOT Deputy Secretary Mort Downey, Brownfields Showcase Summit, October 1998 - Press release.
- Transportation and Brownfields (PDF), July 2000 - US EPA fact sheet.