Conceptual definitions of brownfields and strategies of their regeneration

Contaminated sites are recognized to be a significant matter in Italy: in 2004 around 5,000 sites were registered as polluted and other 7,000 were registered as potentially polluted. Italian regulation requires that contaminated sites must be remediated by the responsibility of the contamination (following the principle “the polluter pays”) or by the owner of the area or, if these actors are not clearly identified, by the competent Public authority.

The definition provided in the document “Guidelines proposal for environmental requalifi-cation and economical valorization of brownfields”[1] (APAT - Servizio Interdipartimentale per le emergenze Ambientali, 2006) is the following: “Contaminated sites where the requalification and land use change can produce economic benefits equal or even higher then costs, considering in the costs both the work for new buildings/infrastructures and the work for remediation. These sites are usually located in urban or suburban areas and are already equipped with infrastructures (power system, gas system, sewage system, etc.) and included in a logistic net. Although these areas have relevant impacts on the surrounding environment and socio-economical context, their characteristics permit their transformation and regeneration including financial and economic benefits and new opportunities of sustainable development for the community”.

This definition, although it is provided by the Italian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cannot be considered a legislative definition, because it is not included in any laws or other legislative documents (i.e. decree).

According to the Government Decree, D. Lgs. 152/2006 (Environmental norms), Part IV, Title V: “Remediation of contaminated sites”, polluted sites are divided in potentially contaminated sites and contaminated sites. A potentially contaminated site is a site in which at least one concentration value (on one sample) of a hazardous substance in an environmental media is higher than the corresponding contamination concentration value (CSC), which represents the screening value. If a site is considered potentially contaminated, a site-specific risk assessment study needs to be performed in order to define if the site is contaminated or not. In fact, the result of the risk assessment is the definition of the risk-based threshold concentrations (CSR in the Italian regulation). These threshold concentrations represent the risk-based remediation targets. On the basis of the results of the risk assessment procedure a contaminated site is defined as a site where the risk-based threshold concentrations (CSR) are exceeded for, at least, one concentration value[2].

As far as the definition of the Italian strategy for brownfields regeneration is concerned, the first attempt to provide some guidelines for the development and implementation of suitable actions is represented by the document issued the 21st of August 2012 by the Italian Ministry of Environment which described the government intentions to support the sustainable development in Italy[3]. Among all the different proposed actions, reduction of bureaucracy and institution of tax credit for procedures related with remediation have been proposed in order to enhance rehabilitation and valuation of abandoned industrial areas.

In order to ensure environment protection, the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, ISPRA (Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale), has been established. In particular ISPRA has been instituted by Decree no. 112 of 25 June 2008, converted into Law no. 133 (with amendments) on 21 August 2008. The Institute acts under the vigilance and policy guidance of the Italian Ministry for the Environment and the Protection of Land and Sea (Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare).

Among all its institutional activities, ISPRA has also the task of providing and updating the guidelines for characterization and remediation of contaminated sites. Some of these documents have been prepared in collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea and other public bodies involved in these issues.

The Italian Ministry for the Environment and the Protection of Land and Sea is instead competent for enacting regulations, financing environmental projects of national public interest and utility and in particular for defining and managing a particular group of sites that are called “sites of national interest” (SNI), that are defined in relation to site characteristics, quantity and hazard of pollutants, impact on the environment in terms of health and ecological risk and damage to cultural heritage. These areas and their perimeters are identified by Decree of the Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea, in agreement with the Regions concerned. SNI differ from other contaminated sites because their reclamation procedure is assigned to the Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea, which may also involve ISPRA, ARPA (regional environmental protection agency) and other regulators.

At regional level the public body for the environmental protection is ARPA (Agenzia Regionale per la Prevenzione e l’Ambiente). Each Italian Region has its own ARPA agency that among all the institutional activities has to ensure that characterization and remediation activities are conducted as required by law.

From the administrative point of view, the approval to the characterization plan, to the environmental risk assessment and to the remediation plan is given by the administration of the Region where the contaminated site is located, with the consensus of the Province and Municipality administrations in charge. The final certificate that a site has been remediated comes under the Province in charge jurisdiction.