Commonly Asked Questions

What is a brownfields site?

A Brownfields site is land property which may be contaminated, which can complicate its development or reuse.

What are examples of brownfields in our community?

Brownfields are typically abandoned industrial or commercial properties (including mining operations), complicated by contamination. Former gas stations and dry cleaners are common brownfields in urban areas. Abandoned mines are common brownfields in rural areas.

How does EPA’s Brownfields Grant Program benefit my community?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Brownfields Program empowers communities to work together to assess, clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. Cleaning and reusing such properties improves the lives of nearby residents by reducing threats to human health and the environment, creating green jobs, promoting community involvement, and attracting investment in local neighborhoods.

What is a Brownfields Assessment Project?

Brownfields Assessment Projects bring together and informs affected parties of contamination issues while assessing the impacts from specific sites. Assessment projects are not cleanup projects. Instead they act to inventory, characterize, assess sites, followed by creating a scope and planning process that involves the local community. Sites can receive further funding from Cleanup Grants. There are hundreds of brownfields assessment projects across the country. Not all properties are eligible for participation under the program, and funding is limited for assessing these properties. Our Project focused on abandoned mercury mines in the Cache Creek and Putah Creek watersheds.

Why are we concerned about mercury?

Mercury comes in several forms. Elemental mercury is dangerous in itself and becomes more toxic as it transforms into methylmercury, which accumulates in fish. Eating contaminated fish can harm the nervous, digestive, and immune systems and can permanently damage organs. Pregnant women and children are most at risk for these effects.

What is EPA’s involvement?

The Brownfield Assessment Project is NOT a regulatory program. In fact, assessments can help to increase property value by protecting future landowners from liability and can also provide critical information needed to clean up contaminated sites. These projects are a tool to promote economic development. EPA involvement is typically limited to review of work products and general project oversight.

Why are regional water managers addressing brownfields?

The Westside Sacramento Integrated Regional Water Management Group is represented by the five counties of Yolo, Colusa, Lake, Solano, and Napa who partner to identify and address regional water resource opportunities and challenges for the areas within the Cache Creek and Putah Creek watersheds. Brownfields threaten human and environmental health. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these sites has many benefits including increasing local land value, facilitating job growth, utilizing existing infrastructure, and improving the environment.

What does the program offer property owners – why would they participate?

Participation in the EPA Brownfield Program is completely voluntary. Participation in a Brownfields project is ideal for property owners looking to eventually donate, sell or redevelop their property.The project team identified sites across the region as potential brownfields, but property owners of those sites did not have to participate.

This assessment project brought resources to the property owners and prospective purchasers that facilitate re-development. The project helped clarify environmental concerns and planned redevelopment to address real or perceived environmental issues. Project funds were used for environmental site assessment activities on properties where the current owner or prospective purchaser is unwilling and/or unable to obtain their own site assessments. These activities include six Phase I and two II Environmental Site Assessments and two Clean-up Plans.

What are Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments?

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) researches current and past uses of a property with respect to potential environmental contaminants. It includes an inspection of the property to observe current uses and conditions, research of historical records, analysis of local soil and groundwater conditions, and a review of regulatory databases and agency files for information regarding possible contamination on and nearby the property. A Phase I ESA, usually conducted by the current owner or prospective purchaser, is a vital part of commercial and industrial property transactions where potential liability is a concern.

A Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) determines the full scope of the impacts and possible corrective actions to protect human health and the environment. The Phase II ESA determines if cleanup activities are warranted by characterizing the property’s contamination. Phase II ESAs include collecting and analyzing samples of soil, sediment, soil vapor, air, surface water, and/or groundwater.

What happens to property owners if environmental impacts were found?

The answer depends on the historical activities at the site, potential contaminant sources, types of contaminants and the regulatory agency that would have jurisdiction over the site. The Brownfields Assessment Team has specialists who consult with property owners to answer this question BEFORE testing is conducted. This way, a property owner knows exactly what the ramifications are if indeed contamination is found and helps them make an informed decision before authorizing testing on a site.

What kind of Cleanup / Redevelopment Planning may be involved?

An Assessment Grant includes planning for cleanup and redevelopment of land. Planned redevelopment of a site is largely dependent on community input. The team determines what is possible to achieve in a future grant and what the local community desires.

Who pays for the cleanup if contamination is found?

Sites eligible for assessment funding – and owned by a municipality, non-profit, or tribe – are likely eligible for full cleanup funding (cleanup grantees must own the property for which they seek a grant).

For ineligible sites, the owner of a contaminated property is typically responsible for its cleanup. Reimbursement programs and mitigation strategies can help reduce this burden in many situations. EPA provides low-interest loans to private property owners for cleaning up contamination.

The project team’s environmental specialists help property owners develop a strategy and identify funding to address cleanup before any testing takes place. The Project Team’s cleanup/redevelopment planning efforts identify cleanup alternatives, and estimate the cost of implementing those alternatives. Property owners and prospective purchasers have free access to this information.

Cleanup decisions are generally based on a site’s proposed end use (such as residential or commercial). The project team will prioritize sites for cleanup funding based on each site’s redevelopment potential.

Where do I go for more information about this project?

Check out the interactive mapping tool at to determine what areas of the five counties are included. You can also contact Project Manager, Stephen McCord, at to inquire about the program and provide information. You can also join the team mailing list here! 

Where can I find out more about the EPA Brownfields program?

Contact Northern California Lead, Eric Byous, at or visit the program website:

Where can I find out more about local and regional parcels that have been evaluated and/or cleaned up by the state?

The Department of Toxic Substances Control’s (DTSC’s) EnviroStor database is an online repository of information on properties being investigated for hazardous substances and/or petroleum products:

The State Water Resources Control Board’s GeoTracker web portal is also available to search for specific cleanup sites and environmental data for regulated facilities in California:

Who is involved in the assessment?