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Environmental Site Assessments: What They Are & What to Expect

Environmental Site Assessments: What They Are & What to Expect

In order to determine the effect a certain project may have on the environment, an environmental site assessment (ESA) is performed. This term refers to a study meant to reveal if a plot of land is safe or the ways in which it is problematic. The assessment evaluates the area technically and analyzes the economic and social influence of the project. It does so by looking carefully at the activities occurring on the site currently and in the past.

There is a standard way to proceed through these assessments. Key components are a historical study, sample readings, and a final report. Sometimes a government agency requires an ESA. They also often occur during property transfers.

Top Points Of Concern 

When you conduct an environmental site assessment, certain aspects of the site should be given particular attention. First is the contamination of soil and water. You need to also assess the site’s buildings to determine if there might be lead-based paint or asbestos. Air contamination can also be an issue. If the assessment uncovers a problem, especially if it is pronounced, you may have to move rapidly to address it – based on your local regulations.

What Does An Environmental Site Assessment Achieve?

While there are benefits of these assessments beyond what you directly achieve as you complete one, these are the three direct objectives:

  • Determine the site’s impact on the environment.
  • Outline a mitigation plan to handle any issues.
  • By considering the extent to which the mitigation efforts will be effective, forecast the extent to which the issues will have an ongoing negative impact.

An environmental site assessment will help reveal how likely it is for the site to become contaminated. It will also describe how significantly the environment might be harmed if the contamination were to broaden. In so doing, it allows you to get a stronger sense of the piece of real estate’s environmental liability.

Specifically and centrally, this process should determine if there is a recognized environmental condition (REC) on the site. To make that determination, the ESA should look at how the property is used and has been used by “all appropriate inquiry.”

By inspecting the site, looking at government agencies’ records, and reviewing historical property records, you can organize information within an environmental site assessment report. The report will conclude whether petroleum products or other hazardous substances are being released now or were released in the past.

Even today, the site could still be negatively impacted by historical use. If the records show that the plot of land was previously used by a gas station or dry cleaner, for example, you could be vulnerable to ongoing environmental problems.

When Do You Need An ESA?

ESAs are needed in various situations. A public agency may require one to grant a discretionary land use permit. A lender may conduct one to determine if they will offer a loan. You may need one after the redistribution of ownership or a partnership buyout.

However, this assessment is particularly critical when you are purchasing or lending a commercial property. It does not matter if the land has numerous buildings on it or is a vacant lot. Completing this assessment is pivotal for environmental due diligence. After you have bought the land, you certainly do not want to be caught off-guard by nasty surprises. Keep in mind that contamination can still influence the area decades later if the site is ever used in a high-risk way.

If contamination is found at your site a year after purchase and you do not have the historical information of a completed site assessment, you could be held responsible. Plus, the discovery of contamination can massively hurt the asset’s value. Anyone who is using the property as collateral or who is lending on the property could be harmed.

The first phase of an environmental site assessment – and one conducted in the right way – is specifically important because it forms the basis for an “innocent landowner” defense. If you can demonstrate that you used ASTM 1527-13 standards to conduct your environmental site assessment, you can get help with cleanup and remediation costs. You may not be able to qualify as an “innocent landowner” if you submit a non-compliant report.

What To Expect During An Environmental Site Assessment

Here is what you should expect from this process, reflecting the four requirements of ASTM 1527-13:

  1. An environmental professional surveys the plot of land and surroundings. Typically someone who knows the site will walk with them as they complete the survey.
  2. A member of the environmental team then looks through the files kept about the property within the state, local, and federal databases, regulatory agencies, and the owner. Items of interest include cases of suspected release, hazardous waste discard, and storage tanks, for example.
  3. The way that the property is used now and was used in the past is evaluated. Operators, occupants, current owners, and past owners are interviewed.
  4. The assessment team writes and organizes a report showing the property’s current and potential contamination sources.

What Is An Environmental Site Assessment Checklist?

The person for whom an ESA is being completed should fill out an environmental site assessment checklist. By ensuring your compliance with the CERCLA All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) rule, this checklist qualifies you for innocent landowner defense via landowner liability protections (LLPs). It helps you achieve the minimum level of inquiry you need.

Plus, it will be a document of your experience with the site and knowledge you have of it – as well as indicating potential and known hazards. It can help reduce your liability in court. Before you perform the survey to determine any presence of RECs, it is key that all information is collected from the owner for the checklist – or you could lose your LLPs.

An Efficient ESA

Are you in need of an environmental site assessment? At AOTC, our efficiency, speed, and accuracy result in cost savings and peace of mind. Contact us today to discover how our environmental remediation services can help your business. We provide environmental consulting services as well.


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