Quality Assurance Guidance for Conducting Brownfields Site Assessments


Courtesy of US EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

Executive Summary

Many sites across the nation once used for industrial and commercial purposes are now abandoned or under-used. Some of these sites — often referred to as “Brownfields”— are contaminated; others are perceived or suspected to be contaminated. In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative to empower States, Tribes, communities, and other stakeholders to work together in a timely manner to assess and safely clean up Brownfields to facilitate their reuse.

This guidance document serves to inform Brownfields site managers of important quality assurance concepts and issues, and provides a road map for identifying the type and quality of environmental data needed to present a clear picture of the site’s environmental conditions.

However, because of the wide range of site-specific issues, project goals, and the degree of difficulty that the Brownfields site assessment team may encounter, this document cannot anticipate every question likely to arise during the project. Therefore, when questions arise, it is hoped that the reader will turn to the extensively referenced Internet and document resources provided in Appendix C for more detailed information.

Brownfields Site Assessments

The Brownfields site assessment requires a team approach encompassing a range of multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills. The Brownfields site assessment should provide sufficient data of adequate quality to allow officials to confidently make decisions about the potential reuse of a Brownfields site.

Brownfields Site Assessment Process

The Brownfields site assessment process routinely involves one or more of the following activities: a review of historical records; a field investigation including sample collection and analysis; the assessment of data useability; and an evaluation of cleanup options and costs.

Through careful planning, the Brownfields site assessment team develops a conceptual site model and establishes and communicates the team’s goals and how the team will reach those goals using a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP).

Quality Assurance/Quality Control

Brownfields team members should understand the benefits of strong quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) procedures.

Quality assurance is an integrated system of management activities involving planning, implementation, assessment, reporting, and quality improvement to ensure that a process, item, or service is of the type and quality needed and expected. Quality control is the overall system of technical activities (including checks on sampling and analysis) that measure the performance of a process against defined standards to verify that they meet predefined requirements. Since errors can occur in the field, laboratory, or office, QC must be part of each of these functions.

Document Control

Document control is a crucial, but an often overlooked, component of quality assurance. It is critical to completion of the last stage of a Brownfields site assessment — review of data useability.

Data useability review depends on thorough documentation of predefined data specifications and the related events that take place during implementation of the project.

Data Quality Objectives (DQO) Process

Data credibility is one of the most important challenges facing municipalities, Tribes, and States managing a Brownfields site assessment. An important planning tool used to help ensure data credibility is the DQO process.

The DQO process allows the Brownfields site assessment team to determine the level of data quality needed for specific data collection activities, and to estimate the cost associated with these activities.


1. State the Problem: What is the purpose of the project?

2. Identify the decision(s): What are the available options under consideration?

3. Identify Inputs in the Decision(s): What information is needed to make informed, defensible decisions?

4. Define the Boundaries of the Study: What is the geographical extent and time and budget constraints for the project.

5. Develop a Decision Rule: Formulate “if...then” statements that relate the data to the decision they support.

6. Specify Limits on Decision Errors: Estimate how much uncertainty will be tolerated in the site decision(s).

7. Optimize the Design: Identify the most cost-effective means to gather the data needed. If obstacles exist, reassess all the steps of the DQO process to refine decisions and goals until a workable roadmap or decision tree is produced.

These seven steps are used during the planning of the Brownfields site assessment process to ensure that field activities, data collection operations, and the resulting data meet the project objectives. The DQO process is iterative, and the output of one step may affect prior steps. This may lead the Brownfields site assessment team to revisit some previous steps but will ultimately lead to a more efficient data collection design.

Application of the DQO process is actually a “common sense” approach that translates broad consensus-based goals into specific tasks. In this way, the Brownfields team uses the DQO process to prepare a road map, which can guide the project, inform the public and other interested parties, and bring newcomers to the project quickly up to speed.

Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP)

The Environmental Protection Agency requires that all Federally funded environmental monitoring and measurement efforts participate in a centrally managed quality assurance program.

Any Brownfields site assessment team generating data under this quality assurance program has the responsibility to implement minimum procedures to ensure that the precision, accuracy, and completeness of its data are known and documented.

To ensure this responsibility is met uniformly, each Brownfields site assessment team should prepare a written QAPP. The QAPP is a formal document describing in comprehensive detail the necessary QA and QC, and other technical activities that should be implemented to ensure that the results of the work preformed will satisfy the stated performance criteria.

The QAPP documents the project planning process (i.e., the DQO process), enhances the credibility of sampling results, produces data of know quality, and saves resources by reducing errors and the time and money spent correcting them.

This guidance document includes a description of a QAPP and template forms to prepare one.

Download the full document in pdf format (1.36 Mb)

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