Brownfield and Greyfield Redevelopment

Redevelopment and adaptive reuse of existing development promotes sustainable development practices by recycling land designated as either brown fields or greyfields.

"Brownfields" are abandoned or under-used industrial and commercial sites that have, or may potentially have, some environmental contamination. These sites are usually concentrated in urban areas, but they may also be located in suburban or rural landscapes. Brownfields are most often located in developed areas with existing utilities and transportation facilities. Because of environmental problems and costs associated with clean up, brownfields are often passed over for development while large investments are made to convert greenfields into industrial and commercial uses.

"Greyfields" describes economically obsolescent, outdated, or underutilized lands such as older retail malls or strip centers that no longer attract adequate investment or tenants. Greyfields typically are not environmentally contaminated, but may contain older types of infrastructure that may need to be replaced. These lands are similar to brownfields to the extent that they are underutilized.

Pennsylvania created the Land Recycling Program in 1995 (Acts 2, 3, and 4) to address the problem of unused industrial sites. The program has three purposes:

  1. To make contaminated sites safe.
  2. To return these sites to productive use.
  3. To preserve farmland and green space.

The goal of the Land Recycling Program is to encourage the voluntary cleanup and reuse of contaminated sites. The program is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), except for the Industrial Land Recycling Fund and the Act 4 grants which are administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

The Land Recycling Program provides uniform cleanup standards based on actual health risks and the proposed use of the site rather than restoration to pristine conditions. The liability of owners, developers, and financiers is limited when the site has been remediated according to the cleanup standards. This reduced liability encourages voluntary elimination of public health and environmental hazards and reuse of sites.


The following advantages are associated with the reuse of brownfield or greyfield sites:

The Pennsylvania Land Recycling Program provides the following benefits:


The following limitations can be associated with the reuse of brownfield or greyfield sites:

How To Use This Tool

The State Land Recycling Program provides incentives to encourage the voluntary cleanup and reuse of contaminated sites. The State provides releases from liability, uniform cleanup standards, and standardized review procedures to reduce uncertainty and delays. Cleanup plans are based on the actual risk the contamination poses to public health and the environment. The key element of the program is the release from liability for owners and developers of a site that has been remediated according to the applicable standards.

Selecting Cleanup Standards

The process begins with an environmental assessment to determine the types and levels of contamination of a site. Anyone who wants to clean up a site under the Land Recycling Program must select from three types of cleanup standards:

Background Standard: This is appropriate when the contamination is not related to any release of the contaminant at the site. Instead the contamination may be the result of releases from nearby properties. Anyone choosing the Background Standard must document that concentrations of any remaining contaminants are not related to any release at the site. This standard is usually met through treatment and removal.

Statewide Health Standard: This standard is based on regulations defining cleanup levels for various concentrations of contaminants. The defined concentration levels depend upon the specific health risks of the chemicals causing the contamination and vary according to the setting, such as residential or industrial. The standard is generally met through treatment and removal.

Site-Specific Standard: A cleanup using this standard is based on the contaminants, exposure, and conditions at the site. The cleanup level considers risk factors appropriate to the intended future use of the site. The standards may be attained by a combination of treatment, removal, and engineering controls. This can include innovative remediation measures. A notice must indicate whether residential or non-residential exposure assumptions were used in developing the cleanup standards.

In addition to the three environmental standards, there are provisions for the redevelopment of Special Industrial Areas. These sites either have no financially viable responsible party or must be located in an Enterprise Zone designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The redeveloper of the site must not have caused the contamination and is only responsible for remediating the immediate, direct or imminent threats to public health and the environment based on the intended use of the site. A deed notice must indicate the exposure assumptions used in developing the cleanup standards.


The remediation process begins with a Notice of Intent to Remediate being sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. A copy of this notice is sent to the municipality where the site is located and a summary is published in a local newspaper. The notice includes important information, such as the site name and location, type of contamination, ownership history, proposed cleanup standard and method, remediator name, and proposed use of the property.

When the Background Standard or Statewide Health Standard is selected, the cleanup is undertaken after the publication of the Notice of Intent to Remediate. A Notice of Submission of the Final Report documenting the attainment of the appropriate standards is sent to the municipality after the cleanup is completed. This notice is published in a local newspaper and the Pennsylvania Bulletin. DEP has 60 days to approve the final report or respond with a notice of deficiency.

When the Site-Specific Standard or Special Industrial Areas provisions are selected for a cleanup, there are provisions for additional municipal and public involvement. The Notice of Intent to Remediate includes a 30 day public comment period. The municipality can request to be involved in the development of the remediation and reuse plans for the site, and can request a public involvement program. DEP has 90 days to approve the final plan or respond with a notice of deficiency.


Franklin Commons in Phoenixville Borough is an example of recycling an historic industrial building for contemporary uses. The building has been transformed into a mixed-use educational, corporate and recreational facility located at 400 Franklin Avenue. This facility is an example of how a century-old industrial and manufacturing building has evolved during its lifetime and how it can be renovated for 21st Century activities.

The West Chester Manufactured Gas Plant is a two acre property that had contaminated soil and groundwater from past manufacturing activity. The property was vacant from 1988 until it was remediated in 1996 using Statewide Health Standards and Site-Specific Standards.

The Santos Auto Center in West Chester is an auto repair shop which formerly included a gas station. Leaks from storage tanks produced soil and groundwater contamination. The soil has been remediated to meet the Statewide Health Standards and groundwater has met a Site-Specific Standard.

A restaurant property, formerly used by a gas station, in West Chester had contaminated soil and groundwater from fuel oil. The soil was cleaned to Statewide Health Standards. A Site-Specific Standard was achieved for groundwater with remaining contaminants isolated from human exposure. A note on the property deed will alert future owners of the precautions needed to prevent exposure if the land use is changed.

Related References

Learn more about the Pennsylvania Land Recycling Program of 1995.

Related Tools