In order to establish the environmental condition of a property and determine any risks to human health and the user’s liability, a site must be assessed by an Environmental Professional (EP). By assessing the property through Federally standardized means, Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments help determine existing, historical, or possible future environmental conditions which may pose a risk to yourself, your employees, site occupants, and neighbors, as well as the local community and ecology.
Phase I Environmental Site Assessment: What Is It & Why Do I Need It?
In addition to understanding the purpose of a Phase I ESA, it is important to determine if it is the right step for you to take in accomplishing your goals for your property.
What is a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment involves (as the name implies) assessing the condition of the area suspected to be contaminated. Depending on the nature of the incident that triggered the Phase I, this will likely include sampling such materials as soil and groundwater to more clearly determine the nature and extent of the contamination.
The purpose of a Phase I ESA, in accordance with the current Standard Practice for Phase I Environmental Site Assessments – ASTM E: 1527-21, is to identify the presence of Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs) as defined in the ASTM Guidance. Activities required to complete the Phase I ESA include a property records review, site visit, and reconnaissance, interviews with past and present owners, occupants, and regulators, and preparation of a Phase I ESA report. These activities focus on how the property is being used today and how it was used in the past, drawing from existing and reasonably ascertainable information. The environmental site assessment seeks to uncover ways that the natural environment or human health might be impacted by the presence, historical presence, or risk to future presence of hazardous materials including petroleum products.
For the Phase I ESA to be valid, it must be led and verified by an Environmental Professional (EP) defined as “a person who possesses sufficient specific education, training, and experience necessary to exercise professional judgment to develop opinions and conclusions regarding conditions indicative of releases or threatened releases on, at, in, or to a property”.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that environmental remediation and Phase I’s don’t necessarily need to always occur immediately after an incident. There are also cases when a company may enlist the help of environmental remediation specialists to learn about the history of a site before beginning work. For instance, if a wireless carrier wants to construct a new cell tower on a given property, they would want to conduct a Phase I first to ensure their work won’t put the environment or the construction team at risk.
Examples of an Environmental Professional include:
- A licensed Engineer or Geologist with three (3) years of field experience
- A Licensed or Certified Environmental Professional (LEP/CEP) with three (3) years of field experience
- A professional with a Baccalaureate or higher degree from in a discipline of engineering or science and five (5) years of field experience
- A professional with at least ten (10) years of field experience.
Why Do I Need a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
Knowledge of the information collected during a Phase I ESA can inform the property owner or potential buyer so that they can protect themselves or their personnel from exposure to hazardous contamination. It establishes existing environmental conditions occurring at the property prior to the purchase of a property or occupation by a tenant, alleviating the User’s liability for any RECs identified in the Phase I ESA. This is especially prudent for owners and leasers of commercial or industrial properties. If contamination originating from or traversing through the property is discovered, a Phase I ESA may help establish a responsible party.
For example, a savvy property owner who had a Phase I ESA performed prior to leasing out a building would be able to provide the defense that contamination resulting from the activities of a tenant was not pre-existing and that they are not liable.
On the other side, a diligent tenant who had a Phase I ESA performed prior to moving in and beginning operations would be able to provide the defense that the contamination was the result of a pre-existing REC and that they are not liable.
The scope of a Phase I ESA includes the All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) required in order for the User to qualify for Limited Liability Protections (LLPs) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA, aka Superfund):
- Interviews with past and present owners, operators, and occupants. The Environmental Professional will ask the site owner, site personnel, adjacent property occupants, and relevant government officials for any specialized knowledge of environmental conditions pertaining to the property.
- Reviews of historical sources and federal, tribe, state, and local government records.
- Visual inspection of the facility and adjoining properties to survey existing site conditions.
- Research of commonly known or reasonably ascertainable information to develop a strong understanding of present and historical site conditions.
Pending on the findings of a Phase I ESA performed by an EP, the liability of a potential purchaser may be alleviated, the current owner of a property may qualify for a refinance, or a developer of a property may be able to move forward with construction.
If the findings of the Phase I ESA necessitate soil, groundwater, or vapor sampling, the EP may recommend a Phase II ESA to further assess environmental conditions in relation to the property. However, the need for a Phase II ESA does not necessarily endanger the feasibility for purchase, development, or sale of the property. A Phase II ESA can support the liability protections under CERCLA for the User.
How Long Does It Take?
AOTC’s team of trained and experienced EPs can complete a Phase I ESA within 15-business days! More complex, high risk, or high-acreage properties may take up to 20-business days due to voluminous records or large property areas. A Phase II ESA deemed necessary by the findings of the Phase I ESA may take up to an additional 20-business days.
How Much Does It Cost?
Phase I ESAs performed by an AOTC Environmental Professional are affordable without sacrificing quality at $1,800 to $2,500! Properties out-of-county of an AOTC office, greater than 20-acres in area, or in high-risk areas are priced to suit our clients’ needs while ensuring a high-quality report to protect our clients’ health and liability.
Contact Our ESA Team Today!
Do your goals for your property and liability include a Phase I or Phase II Environmental Site Assessment? At AOTC, we offer a wide range of environmental site assessment and remediation services to accelerate accomplishing those goals. Contact AOTC today to schedule your comprehensive Environmental Site Assessment with one of our highly trained and experienced Environmental Professionals.