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Brownfield Initiative

The term "brownfield" is used to describe properties with contamination concerns that are underused or abandoned. Common examples throughout Oregon include former gas stations, auto repair shops, dry cleaners, landfills, and mill sites.

Health and equity are critical considerations in brownfield redevelopment and land reuse planning. OHA supports efforts that engage local residents and traditionally underrepresented communities, involve local leaders, foster cross-sector collaboration, and prevent harmful exposures to contamination to plan and improve health through redevelopment and land reuse.

Brownfields and Public Health Toolkit

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Action Model Toolkit promotes health considerations in brownfield efforts nationwide.

OHA-PHD Brownfield Initiative Webinar

This webinar provides information about the public health opportunities that exist in brownfield redevelopment and land re-use. The webinar features speakers from Business Oregon, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Portland-based non-profit Verde. Public health involvement in brownfield redevelopment projects provides a way to incorporate health considerations into planning, transportation, land use, development?, housing, climate change impacts, food security, and many other aspects of our social and built environments.

Public Health's Role in Brownfields

The social, economic, and environmental conditions of the communities where we live, contribute a great deal to our health. While brownfield redevelopment efforts are largely driven by economic and environmental considerations, there is a strong need to involve public health. Public health professionals who have expertise in toxicology, epidemiology, health data for decision makers, GIS mapping, education, community engagement, and relationship building all provide unique, and valued perspectives in brownfield redevelopment efforts.

Below are a few examples of how public health involvement can add value to brownfield efforts.

  • Engaging underrepresented populations through culturally competent, community involvement approaches.
  • Providing expertise, resources and partnerships to promote health and the success of the project.
  • Integrating equity, social & environmentaljustice, and the social determinants of health into brownfield planning, environmental assessment and site use after redevelopment.
  • Contributing to risk assessments by providing health education as part of environmental assessment activities at specific sites.
  • Characterizing and addressing health risks and health-related community concerns through the assessment and redevelopment process.
  • Participating on advisory committees to inform the strategies and prioritization of site specific, area-wide, inventory or comprehensive brownfield or land-use planning.

Support to Local Brownfield Projects

OHA receives funding from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to carry out brownfield related work through two federal grants. The efforts below demonstrate how state and local public health can support communities, nonprofits, community organizations, and other sectors of state and local government to create healthier environments.

Projects funded by OHA-Brownfield Initiative and carried out by local health departments

Projects carried out by the OHA-Brownfield Initiative

Cully Park

Local residents and community-serving organizations involved with the Let Us Build Cully Park! coalition worked with the Department of Environmental Quality and the OHA-Brownfield Initiative to assess the environmental and human health risks present at a former landfill located in the Cully neighborhood of northeast Portland. The Cully Park: Improving health through community partnerships summary provides details for the education-based community engagement process that ensured transparency in what is traditionally a government-led environmental site assessment process. Nationwide, there are many examples of parks that are built on top of former landfills. The Cully Park risk assessment process gave the green light for park development. The OHA Environmental Health Assessment Program completed a Health Consultation report. A summary of the findings is available in English, Spanish, and Somali.

The OHA-Brownfield Initiative provided additional support in helping to develop strategies for tracking progress on community-identified health interests for the park and surrounding community. The Cully Park Community Health Indicators Report, also found here inSpanish, details the processes and partnerships that resulted from this community-driven effort to identify "indicators" of community's health. Indicators include things like how much sidewalk coverage there is in a community, how safe and secure the residents feel walking at night, whether there is access to fresh fruits and vegetables or if there are opportunities for culturally relevant activities. Once indicators are identified, they can be tracked over time to see how a community's health improves or declines and where resources are needed for improvement. Summaries of the report are available in English, Spanish and Somali.

The first phase of Cully Park development includes a community garden (video), a playground (video), a tribal gathering garden (video), a basketball court, a youth soccer field, a picnic area, an off-leash dog area and walking fitness trails. Parking and pedestrian access improvement efforts are also underway.

Linnton Action Model Project

Federal, state and local government, private industry, community-serving organizations and community residents joined together to pilot the ATSDR Action Model in the Linnton neighborhood - located within industrial northwest Portland. The pilot project was an opportunity for government, industry and local residents to explore concerns about environmental conditions in the area, and to promote health through neighborhood-level changes in the built environment. The residential area of Linnton sits on a hillside, relatively isolated from the rest of Portland, along U.S. Highway 30. It overlooks and sits within close proximity to numerous industrial sites, including the Portland Harbor Superfund site. A few successes from this effort are noted below:

  • The ATSDR Action Model provided the platform for one of the most impactful outcomes from this effort -- the focus on repairing relationships and trust between neighborhood residents and the government agencies that serve them.
  • The Linnton Health Fair event connected Linnton residents to health care service providers, free or reduced cost blood-lead level testing, and environmental, health and municipal organizations and agencies that serve the community.
  • The EPA funded Vision to Action effort provided a hands-on way for Linnton residents to come together and imagine a healthier community. Linnton residents created a series of drawings that depict their vision of possibilities for redevelopment including the former mill site, promoting recreation along the river, connecting the community through infrastructure improvements that promote physical activity, and creating safe spaces for community gatherings.
  • TheLinnton Photovoice Portfolio photovoice project engaged Linnton neighborhood residents to share perspectives about brownfield redevelopment and health through photography. The resulting collection travels the city as an exhibit to raise awareness of how health can be promoted through brownfield redevelopment.

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