Phase 1 - Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)
Phase 1 - Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)
A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, also referred to as an ESA, or Phase I ESA, is a research of the the current and historical uses of a property as part of a commercial real estate transaction. The objective of the Phase 1 is to assess if current or historical property uses have impacted the soil or groundwater where the property is located that could pose a threat to the environment and/or health of human occupants. If these environmental issues are found, it presents a liability for the lender and/or owner, and will likely affect the value of the property. A Phase I ESA completed prior to the closure of a real estate transaction is a must. A Phase 1 can be used to satisfy the requirements of CERCLA’s (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) innocent land owner defense under All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI).
Phase I Environmental Site Assessment reports can be completed on all types of properties including vacant land, agricultural, multi-family residential, commercial, and industrial uses; however, all Phase I ESA reports are completed to comply with ASTM E1527-13 with some exceptions.
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What is involved on a Phase 1
• A site visit to observe current and past conditions and uses of the property and adjacent properties;
• A review of federal, state, tribal, and local regulatory databases including, but not limited to, underground storage tanks (USTs), aboveground storage tanks (ASTs), known or suspected release cases, the storage of hazardous substances and disposal of hazardous wastes including petroleum products, and institutional and engineering controls;
• A review of historical records, such as historical aerial photographs, fire insurance maps (Sanborn maps), historical city directories, and historical topographic maps;
• A review of state and local agency records, including but not limited to state environmental agencies, Building Departments, Fire Departments, and Health Departments.
• Interviews with current and past property owners, operators, and occupants, or others familiar with the property.
• Interviews with the Report User for title or judicial records for environmental liens and activity and use limitations (AULs); specialized knowledge or experience; actual knowledge; commonly known or reasonably ascertainable information; the reason for a significantly lower purchase price; and the reason for the preparation of the Phase I ESA. It is the User responsibility to provide this information to qualify for the innocent landowner defense.
This research is evaluated by the Environmental Professional (EP) to identify potential environmental risks to the property such as current or historic operations that are known or suspected to have used hazardous substances or petroleum products during onsite operations.
Some very common uses of concern are: dry cleaners, gas stations, auto/vehicle repair, printing operations, and manufacturing. In addition to potential soil and groundwater contamination, ASTM E1527-13 addresses the concerns associated with contamination in soil vapor and the potential for vapor migration to pose a threat to onsite and offsite tenants.
What happens if Phase 1 reveal a Recognized Environmental Condition?
Once a Phase I ESA is complete, the Environmental Professional will summarize what concerns were identified on the property and make recommendations over concerns.
A recognized environmental condition (REC) indicates known contamination or the potential for the subsurface to have been impacted by contamination. A controlled recognized environmental condition (CREC) identifies that the property has been impacted by contamination that has been remediated; but would require additional work if redeveloped.
The identification of a REC will often include a recommendation for a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment to collect soil, groundwater, and/or soil vapor samples from the subsurface to analyze for the presence of contamination.
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