Environmental Health Action Guide - compiled and maintained by the Sustainable Cleveland Partnership and NeighborhoodLink





Almost every day, Tim and Dave walk their dog through an open city lot next to their apartment building covered with wild daisies, weeds and old rubble. Lots of other kids walk through this lot as a short cut to the elementary school or bus stop. On some days you can see dozens of kids in the neighborhood using this lot as a baseball diamond.

There are rumors in the community that this open field was once home to a thriving commercial waste handling facility that provided jobs to the community. But now the business is gone. Properties like this underused and abandoned city lot, which may be slightly or significantly contaminated, are known as brownfields. Should Tim and Dave be walking their dog on this vacant lot? What can the community do to get informed, get the lot cleaned?

Find out if there are brownfields in your neighborhood and what you can do about them.



 * Cuyahoga County Planning Commission

What Are Brownfields:

"Many areas across the country that were once used for industrial and commercial purposes have been abandoned – some are contaminated. Because lenders, investors, and developers fear that involvement with these sites may make them liable for cleaning up contamination they did not create, they are more attracted to developing sites in pristine areas, called 'greenfields.' The result can be blighted areas rife with abandoned industrial facilities that create safety and health risks for residents, drive up unemployment, and foster a sense of hopelessness. These areas are called ‘brownfields.’ (From US EPA's web page on the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative.)



Brownfields Programs:

The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission received a $200,000 grant from the US EPA to promote brownfields redevelopment in Cleveland. Activities include:

 1. Redevelopment of two sites:


2. Development of computerized Brownfields Database.

Contact Virginia Aveni at the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission at 216/443-3700 for information on the status of these brownfields projects and the database.



Toxic Sweep Task Force:

The Toxic Sweep Task Force, established in 1993 by the Mayor, City of Cleveland, and the Ohio Attorney General, is a collaborative community-based team effort to coordinate and apply the appropriate city, state, and federal tools to force owners and other responsible parties to clean up toxics contaminated abandoned properties. Over 100 properties have been cleaned up. For information, contact Terry Ross, City of Cleveland, at 216/664-4009, or Janet Weaver, Ohio Attorney General's Office, at 216/787-3180.


Job Training:

The Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) offers job training for local minority residents in brownfields redevelopment. Contact Sandy Crawford of Tri-C at 216/987-4327 for information.



State of Ohio’s Brownfields Program -- Voluntary Action Plan (VAP):

VAP is a state program that encourages property owners to voluntarily clean up their contaminated property to encourage future use. The amount of cleanup required for a piece of property depends on what that property would be used for in the future. For example, land that will be used for an industrial facility will not have to be cleaned up as much as land that will be used for homes. If a state certified inspector verifies that a property has been cleaned up based on VAP standards, a Covenant Not to Sue (CNS) will be issued, preventing the Ohio EPA from forcing the property owner into further cleanups in the future. To find out more about VAP and local properties that are participating in the program, contact Ohio EPA's Public Interest Center by dialing the state operator at 216/787-3000 and ask for Ohio EPA's Public Interest Center. 


Federal Brownfields Programs – US EPA’s Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative:

This program works to promote redevelopment of brownfields, offering grants to local and state governments to coordinate the clean-up and redevelopment of these sites. EPA has coordinated over 115 brownfields pilot projects in cities across the country, including Cleveland. For more information on the US EPA’s Brownfields work in Cleveland, contact US EPA Region 5’s Brownfield Office at 800/621-8431.





Contact Virginia Aveni in the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission at 216/443-3700 for information on brownfields redevelopment in Cleveland. 

Contact Don Iannone of Cleveland State University’s Great Lakes Environmental Finance Center, an organization that researches innovative brownfields funding mechanisms, at 216/687-4590 for information on financing brownfields projects.



For information on Ohio’s Voluntary Action Plan brownfields program, contact Ohio EPA's Public Interest Center by dialing the state operator at 216/787-3000 and ask for the Ohio EPA's Public Interest Center.

Contact US EPA Region 5’s Brownfields Office at 800/621-8431. 

Access the Great Lake Information Network’s Brownfields in the Great Lakes Region Homepage for regional brownfields information.



Access US EPA’s Brownfields Homepage for information on Federal brownfields programs.

Full mailing addresses and phone numbers of organizations listed on this factsheet are available in this Guide's Directory of Organizations.




Contact Your Local Elected Officials: Encourage them to support strong local, state, and Federal policies that encourage the redevelopment of brownfields.



Vacant Lots and Litter:

Vacant lots abound in and around Cleveland. Vacant lots can be a problem for some communities because they represent lost economic opportunities and can spoil the beauty of neighborhoods, attract illegal dumpers, trash, and rodents. But vacant lots can also benefit a community by providing open space for children or community gardens.




Find Out Who Owns Vacant Lots or Abandoned Buildings In Your Neighborhood: While the city of Cleveland owns many vacant lots or abandoned buildings, others are owned by private parties who are still responsible for keeping the lot clean and safe. To find out which properties are owned by the City of Cleveland, contact the LandBank office at 216/664-4126. To find out about which of these properties are owned by private parties, contact the Cuyahoga County Real Estate Auditors Office at 216/443-7100.


Organize Neighborhood Litter Cleanups: Talk to your neighbors, neighborhood association, church group, or school about organizing formal or informal litter pickups. Contact Clean-Land Ohio at 216/696-2122 for information on organizing neighborhood litter cleanups.


Report Illegal Dumping: Call the City of Cleveland’s Illegal Dumping and Special Services Hotline at 216/664-3867 to report illegal dumpers in your community.


Report Rats and Other Pests: Litter and illegal dumping in vacant lots can attract rats and other pests to vacant lots. Call Cleveland’s Division of the Environment at 216/664-2300 to report rats and other pests.


Transform a Vacant Lot Into A Community Garden: Community gardens are public gardens set up in vacant lots, city parks, or empty fields. Community gardens work to improve the quality of life in urban communities by beautifying neighborhoods, providing recreational opportunities and open space, and providing opportunities for residents to grow their own food. There are 185 community gardens in Cleveland. To find out about starting community gardens in your neighborhood, contact Kathleen O’Neill of Ohio State University Extension’s Urban Gardening Program at 216/397-6000.



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