NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Threat Of Lawsuits Keeps Owners From Cleaning Polluted Lands

February 25, 2000

Bankers, real-estate companies and other interests are often wary of cleaning up and developing polluted properties they own because they are afraid of lawsuits stemming from inadequate clean up, observers report.

A study released yesterday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that 82,000 acres of land in 201 American cities are so polluted that they are either deserted or underused -- an area larger than Pittsburgh and Minneapolis combined. The numbers are based on data from 231 of the 1,050 cities that were sent questionnaires and responded.

  • The sites, which are known as brownfields, range from boarded-up gas stations where fuel has seeped into the ground to old steel factories that have contaminated the soil with toxic chemicals.
  • The mayors' group views the sites as a source of new jobs -- more than 550,000 jobs could be created in the 187 cities that estimated employment benefits.
  • Restoring the sites would mean some $878 million in local tax revenue in the 176 cities that estimated income benefits.
  • At present, the threat of legal proceedings against owners who cleanup means that the lands -- which the mayors call unsightly and dangerous -- are left to fester for decades.

Experts say that due to the limited number of surveys which were returned the total brownfield acreage in the U.S. is probably much higher than the estimate.

Source: Traci Watson, "Report Finds More Than 80,000 Acres of Polluted Land in USA," USA Today, February 25, 2000; "Recycling America's Land: A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment," February 24, 2000, U.S. Conference of Mayors.


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