Uncovering the historic environmental hazards of urban brownfields

Jill S. Litt, Thomas A. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


In Baltimore, over 1,000 vacant industrial sites persist across its urban landscape, yet little is known about the potential environmental health risks that may undermine future cleanup and redevelopment activities and the health of those in communities near these sites. This study examined the characteristics of urban brownfield properties in southeast Baltimore, Maryland, and screened sites for their potential environmental hazards. In addition, demographic and health data were evaluated to profile the social and health status of those in brownfield communities. The results show that brownfields in southeast Baltimore represent a range of historic operations, including metal smelting, oil refining, warehousing, and transportation, as well as paints, plastics, and metals manufacturing. The screening method identified a range of substances associated with these properties, including heavy metals, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which are suspected or recognized toxicants, and many of which are persistent in the environment. Spatially, these sites are concentrated in white, working class neighborhoods in which poverty levels exceed and educational attainment lags behind state and national averages. Moreover, these sites are concentrated in communities in which excess mortality rates due to respiratory disease, cancer, and heart disease exist when compared to the city, state, and national averages. This investigation demonstrated the usefulness of historic archives, real estate records, regulatory files, and national hazard-tracking systems based on standard industrial classification (SIC) to screen brownfield properties for their hazard potential. This analysis provides the foundation for further site monitoring and testing, cleanup and redevelopment priority setting, risk management strategies, and neighborhood planning, and it illustrates the need for increased health surveillance and disease prevention strategies in affected communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-481
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2002


  • Brownfields
  • Hazard screening
  • Urban redevelopment
  • Waste management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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