Denver 5th for environmental hazards

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Highlights:

  • RealtyTrac releases environmental hazard report.
  • Denver ranks 5th in nation.
  • Some sites, like Gates, are being cleaned.
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National snapshot.

Denver ranks fifth in the nation for man-made environmental hazards, which covers everything from meth labs to superfund sites, according to a national report released on Tuesday.

RealtyTrac, a housing data company based in Irvine, Calif., in its first-ever environmental hazard report, looked at 3,143 counties in the country.

Homefacts, a RealtyTrac subsidy, tracked five man-made environmental hazards. They include:

  • Percentage of bad air quality days, which is derived upon the average percentage of days without significant traces of carbon monoxide, fine particles, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, or sulfur dioxide in the air as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency. Denver had 10.53 percent bad air quality days, compared to the U.S. average of 5.43 percent.
  • Superfund sites on National Priorities list. Sites on the list are known for the release or threatened release of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. There are 134 superfund sites in the Denver area according to Homefacts.
  • Brownfield sites, in which the redevelopment, expansion or re-use of the property is complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. there are 29 Brownfield sites in the Denver area, according to Homefacts. However, some of those on the list, such as the former Gates Rubber plant, which recently sold for $28.5 million, either have been cleaned or in the process of being remediated.
  • Polluters, based on data from the Toxic Release Inventory Program that requires certain industrial facilities that manufacture or process more than 25,000 pounds of TRI-listed chemicals or uses more than 10,000 pounds of listed chemical in  a given year to report to the EPA. There are 46 TRIP industries in the Denver area, according to Homefacts.
  • And former drug labs per square mile, including meth labs, that are reported to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.From 2000 to 2012, there were an average of 28 drug lab seizures in Colorado annually, although were none in 2013, according to Homefacts.
The former Gates Rubber factory site is being cleaned up by its recent buyer.

The former Gates Rubber factory site is being cleaned up by its recent buyer.

An aggregate score based on these five factors was created for each county, with a higher score representing a higher prevalence of man-made environmental hazards.

Denver received a score of 19.9. St. Louis, ranked No. 1, had a score of 87.2.

Jolon Ruch, president of the Colorado Association of Realtors, questioned the relevancy of the study.

“I haven’t seen it have any affect on home sales or prices,” said Ruch, a broker and group leader with the Main Street Group at Keller Williams Preferred Realty in Westminster.

“It’s never been an issue with any of my listings and I have never heard of it being a problem with any other brokers,” she added.

In fact, a number of formerly polluted sites have been cleaned up and transformed into well-received communities and amenities.

“I grew up in Broomfield with (all of the contamination) at Rocky Flats and look at it today,” she said. She also noted that the former Lowry Air Force Base had pollution problems and now is considered one of the most successful redevelopments of a military base in the country.

“If anything, I think we can be proud that our state and counties have  been so responsible,” in cleaning up polluted sites, Ruch said.

“As Realtors, we not only sell homes but communities,” she said, so it is imperative buyers believe their health and welfare is not endangered by pollutants in or near their homes.

Indeed, that has been a concern of fracking, although that was not addressed in the RealtyTrac report.

Other Colorado counties on the list:

  • Arapaho County was ranked No. 32, with a score of 12.1.
  • Adams and El Paso counties were ranked No. 38 and 39, with scores of 11.8 and 11.7, respectively.
  • Pueblo and Jefferson counties, were ranked 44th and 45th, with scores of 11.5 and 11.4, respectively.

Deschutes, Oregon, scored a zero, ranking it top of the 50 counties with the fewest man-made hazards.

The report also tracked other real estate metrics, including median home values, one-year, five-year and 10-year home price appreciation — along with unemployment rates and median household incomes in each county housing market.

The report showed Denver housing prices rising 63.9 percent during the past five years.

“That speaks volumes,” Ruch said.

Only San Bernardino and Merced, both in California, showed higher appreciation than Denver, with prices rising 73.7 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively, during the past five years, as far as the counties on the top 50 list for man-made hazards.

San Bernardino ranked 31st, with a score of 12.2 and Merced was 34th, with a score of 12.

On the list of the counties with the lowest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards, only homes in Broome, N.Y., showed a greater five-year appreciation than Denver. Broome showed a 5-year, 68.1 percentage change.

To put that into perspective, since 2009, the inflation rate has ranged from 1.5 percent to 3 percent each year, for a cumulative increase of 11 percent.

In other words, $1 in goods in 2009 would cost you $1.11 today.

“Somewhat surprisingly, short-term home price appreciation over the past year and five years is stronger in the 50 housing markets with the highest prevalence of man-made hazards,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

“However, the 50 housing markets with the lowest prevalence of man-made hazards have higher median home values and much stronger long-term home price appreciation over the last 10 years along with lower unemployment rates and slightly higher median incomes,” Blomquist continued.

“Not so surprising is that the most hazard-prevalent housing markets are much more populated than the least hazard-prevalent housing markets,” according to Blomquist.

“However, this report demonstrates that prospective homebuyers don’t have to sacrifice potential environmental safety concerns to buy in a market with ample jobs that are relatively well-paying — and where home prices have steadily appreciated over the long-term,” he said.

Also, environmental hazards need to be put into perspective, he said.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that not all of these environmental hazards are created equal, ranging widely in scope and severity,” Blomquist said.

Each county’s man-made environmental hazards score is based on combination of air quality, superfunds on the National Priorities List set by the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental hazards.

Other environmental hazards account for 60 percent of the total score and include superfunds not on the National Priorities List, brownfields, former drug labs, and polluters.
Five items accounted for 80 percent of the score.

Superfunds that made the National Priorities List were given a much higher weighted score. These superfunds accounted for 20 percent of the score.

The remaining 20 percent of the score was derived from air quality per county.

“While individuals and institutions should certainly take this hazard data into account when making real estate decisions about a specific property or market, they should dig into the details for each local hazard to make the most-informed decision.”

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com. InsideRealEstateNews.com is sponsored by Universal Lending, Land Title Guarantee and 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for GlobeSt.com, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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