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"Why are Brownfields in our backyards?"

Updated: Jan 4

Date: December 31, 2023

AFD Blog Title: "Brownfields in Brown Spaces"

America, for decades, has been involved in unfair practices. Environmental justice strives for equal access for all citizens to a healthy environment and refers to unequal exposure to environmental contamination due to locational variables. Human health is often compromised by this contaminant exposure.

“Communities of concern” are frequently communities populated by people of color and/or low-income. In addition to air, water, and soil pollution, specific problems include degraded structures, poor schools, unemployment, high crime, and poor roads and transportation systems. This article addresses some of these issues and makes policy recommendations for business leaders, local government leaders, and those otherwise responsible for enhancing the quality of life in affected communities.

Brownfields are typically concentrated in urban, industrial areas, but they can be found anywhere! Some examples of brownfields include:

  • Vacant warehouses and factories

  • Old institutional buildings

  • Formerly mined lands

  • Former service stations

  • Landfills

Brownfields can be remediated through a number of strategies and redeveloped into many reuse options. In 2023, it is still a source of pride and financial security to own land. However, sometimes owning land in either suburban, urban, or rural areas could come at a high cost if it's coupled with the risks of living in spaces that pose a very real environmental injustice for people of color. Although it is an odd term, did you know there are roughly 40 brownfields in Annapolis, Maryland, and even more in the entire Anne Arundel County region and throughout the state.

Dr. Claud Anderson speaks on this in her book entitled, "Powernomics", she states:

"This nation has never enacted and supported public policies and laws that have denied non-Blacks access to this nation's educational, political, social, and economic systems. These groups have not been customarily lynched, castrated, exploited, and denied the fruits of their labor. Blacks are the only group of people forced to practice capitalism without capital in the richest and most capitalistic nation on earth. Racism and other legacies of slavery predetermine the success of Black Americans as a group. Native Americans as well have seen the brunt of this too.

When a brownfield is also owned by a person of color, it then becomes an environmental justice issue. Here you can find a list of all the Brownfields cited by the state government by the Maryland Department of the Environment(MDE).

Oftentimes, large corporations find that these same brownfields are the best place (affordable land) for organizational headquarters to be set up. The fact that these corporations are interested in purchasing these spaces, which in most cases is in the middle of or neighboring historic black or brown communities, such as the landfills and waste sewer treatment plants in Prince George's County and South County Maryland. Why may you ask?

Well, for a landfill to get permits for building island installation, there must be unanimous approval from the surrounding neighboring communities. Well, more often than expected, our people are left out of those legislative input processes mainly due to a lack of trust, lack of shared networks, and even knowing that a vote is being sought out for such changes in zoning or land use permits.

It is important to note that a great deal is owed to those communities by these major corporations that desire to build, develop, or create infrastructure. There is an industry obligation to provide resources for the communities that already exist. Who do you speak to about neighbors doing things like dumping large piles of horse manure on your land, putting fencing up on your property encroaching across their property lines, and many more environmental injustices?

There is a process for proper remediation of Brownfields, and method to going about trying to replace what was damaged such as water and soil health hazards. Past industrial activities can leave behind chemical contamination or drums of chemical waste., like that of which was done by the United States Navy in Annapolis on the Broadneck Peninsula. These Brownfields all neighbor historic African American communities such as Mulberry Hill, Clay Hill, Skidmore, and Browns Woods. When people enter these properties, they may be injured or exposed to toxic chemicals. Residents and local leaders also may wish to contact their State or Tribal brownfield experts.

BBE (Breaking Boundaries Environmental LLC) has been busy working in Environmental Justice communities throughout Maryland to help citizens solve their own environmental challenges and building organizational and community capacity. It starts by raising awareness and that is much of what the goal of this post is about. Being aware of where our challenges exist, but also acknowledging the hope and opportunities that green and blue infrastructure can lend in restoring Brownfields around communities of color, and showcasing of this rich history and the deep-rooted systemic practice of environmental injustice! Knowledge is the fruit of life. Keep eating!

Written By:

R. Kenyatta Rowel, Jr. XMNR

Breaking Boundaries Environmental LLC (BBE)

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