National Environmental
Health Association Resolution to Support

Public Health Principles and Guidance for Brownfields Policies and Practices

 Adopted July 1999




Resolution to Support Public Health Principles and Guidance for Brownfields Policies and Practices



     communities across the country, with the support of all levels of government, are moving rapidly to redevelop abandoned or underused properties (brownfields), which may be contaminated by toxic substances;

     the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has identified at least 450,000 such sites nationally;

     federal and state laws in many jurisdictions are reducing standards and liability for cleanup and otherwise speeding up the development process; and

     there is risk that due diligence is not being given to ensuring that health risks are being addressed as part of the development process;


Therefore, be it resolved that NEHA adopts the following document, titled “Public Health Principles and Guidance for Brownfields Policies and Practices.”


Be it further resolved that NEHA will seek to disseminate these principles and this guidance as widely as possible and to advocate their application to local, state, and federal policies.


Public Health Principles and Guidance for Brownfields Policies and Practices


National Association of County and City Health Officials, September 1998


            In those communities with brownfields properties, where the health of the public is an issue, NACCHO seeks to provide guidance to local health officials and other agencies with the responsibility to protect public health. The purpose of this guidance is to define an optimal response in linking public health to economic redevelopment for those local health departments with the capacities to meet the guidance. This guidance stresses the importance of working closely with the community and values an expanded role for public health in economic redevelopment processes. While all health agencies may not have the authority and resources they need to play a comprehensive role in community revitalization activities, the expanding number of brownfields properties and efforts to speed up the development process in many jurisdictions require an enhanced vigilance with respect to health consequences. Given the potential health consequences of brownfields, all local health departments are encouraged to address as many of these guidelines as possible.


General Principles

     “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof…. The process of applying [this principle] must be open, informed, and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” (Adapted from the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, developed January 23–25, 1998, Racine, Wisconsin.)

     The health of the public is intimately linked to economic prosperity, and economic development is vital to creating healthy and sustainable communities.

     Economic redevelopment potentially affects public health—positively and negatively.

     The health of the community and the environment must be protected by ensuring that development poses no known significant health threats during the cleanup process or through future use.

     The potential exposure to hazardous substances must be investigated.


Role of Public Health Authorities in Site Activities and Decision Making

     Seek to ratify the readiness of the property for redevelopment, drawing on local health agency expertise when present, or seeking state/federal advice as appropriate.

     Ensure an audit of the site and assess health concerns, with active participation from the community.

     Develop a permanent process for integrating the work of public health, from start to finish, into zoning, land use, and other activities related to redevelopment.

     Strongly encourage partnerships between U.S. EPA and local health agencies to institutionalize a public health role in assessing the brownfields property.

     Determine the baseline health of the local community potentially affected by the proposed site.


Full Collaboration and Participation in Brownfields Process by Affected Community Residents

     Health and planning officials should ensure that affected community residents have early, sustained, and effective participation in all stages of brownfields decision making and that mechanisms are available to make this participation possible.

     Developers and redevelopment authorities must provide adequate public notice of the proposed development plan, including a timeline and where to submit comments.

     Members of the public must be assured of an opportunity to submit written comments on the proposed cleanup plan and/or to request a public meeting.

     Health and planning officials should support strong community collaboration practices, beyond those required by U.S. EPA; the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s community collaboration principles—written by community representatives—should be used as one possible example.*


Community Knowledge, Training, and Assistance

            Communities with local health agency leadership should

     build the capacity of the community to participate by providing technical assistance, training, advisory groups, and other support to ensure effective participation;

     provide equal protection to all residents with respect to enforcement of all health and environmental laws and standards, and work to ensure the adequacy of those laws;

     expand and protect the public’s right to know about contamination and strengthen right-to-know, enforcement, and compliance activity in affected communities;

     provide answers to the community’s questions about public health concerns;

     foster the development of community leaders—capacity building for the community;

     provide the public with access to any studies or reports completed for the redevelopment project;

     post signs at the site in question with information on the proposed plan;

     interpret results of environmental impact assessments for communities (i.e., present scientific data);

     work with communities to evaluate the health risks redevelopment poses to the community;

     keep communities abreast of the results of environmental exposure assessments, as well as public health activities needed given those assessments, and receive more information on thresholds for public health effects; and

     engage in outreach efforts to existing networks and to groups that ordinarily don’t participate.


Standards for Sustainable Communities

     Ensure that the contamination is cleaned to appropriate health and environmental standards and does not threaten public health.

     Ensure that laws cannot be weakened primarily because of the cost of the cleanup.

     Ensure that future use of the property does not include activity that will lead to new health problems.

     Ensure that properties designated for residential use or as schools, as compared with industrial uses, require the strictest standards.

     Ensure that cleanup standards and programs are not weakened.

     Ensure that residents are fully involved in planning and implementation of relocation plans whenever relocation is required, as well as a plan to ensure their well-being in any relocation.

     Ensure that brownfields reuse is compatible with local land use and community perspectives.


Monitoring, Surveillance, and Diagnosis

            Local health agencies should

     maintain off-site testing requirements to ensure that contamination has not migrated;

     identify the health effects of redevelopment;

     ensure that the affected community participates in audits and assessments; and

     ensure that public health issues are not overlooked.


Funding for Public Health

            U.S. EPA and other bodies making grants to cities must provide funding for

     public health agencies to participate in redevelopment activities,

     communities to participate in redevelopment activities, and

     monitoring and enforcement of institutional controls as required by law.




*The Model Plan for Public Participation (November 1996), National Environmental Justice Council, a federal advisory committee to U.S. EPA.


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