Phase One Environmental Site Assessment

What is a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment?


Often times we are asked what a Phase One Site assessment is, and why you as a consumer would even need one. These are great questions.

There are numerous risks involved with the purchase of a piece of property, particularly if the property has ever been used for any sort of commercial or industrial purposes. One that can be costly is dealing with hazardous waste contamination. If you discover that the property has such an issue it can be costly to remediate and could kill your project completely.   Performing an environmental site assessment prior to acquiring a property can help minimize that risk and is considered an int4regal part of the due diligence process.

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment should be an integral step in acquiring commercial and/or industrial property.   So what is a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment? Referred to as a “Phase 1, Phase 1 ESA or Phase 1 Environmental Study”,  the Phase 1 is a report that summarizes a site visit and several types of records reviewing a property and the area surrounding it. It’s purpose is to determine if any additional environmental investigation is warranted.  The way we complete a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment is to use a consistent systematic approach in accordance with ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards E 1527-13 and E2247-08 as well as the AAI (“All Appropriate Inquiry” 40CFR 312 and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 14015 to identify any existing or potential environmental conditions that may be present and therefore affect the condition, usefulness and marketability of a piece of real estate.

Though not exhaustive, here is a short summary of the basic components of a Phase 1:

  1. Records Review
    • Chain of title review. Though the title company will review the chain of title in order to find liens, judgements, or other legal clouds on it, the Phase 1 looks at the chain of title for different reasons. We ask questions such as: What has the property been used for in the past? Are there any uses that raise a red flag based on past usage?
    • Determine surrounding land use. Many business owners and developers do not consider the risks that their neighbors can add to their property other than its’ merchant-ability and resale value. This portion of the report can be a very important part of the assessment as the risk of contamination can increase significantly if the surrounding area or properties have already documented contamination or even if they have the potential to contaminate the property. For example, what if the Gas Station next to your property has had a history of leaking Gasoline into the ground? Wouldn’t you want to know that; especially if you are about to have a well dug and installed?
    • Historical aerial photograph review. A report will almost always include historical aerial photographs to review a time-line for development of the property as well as surrounding properties.
    • Agency contacts and related record searches. We contact agencies such as fire departments, the health department, ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality), the related water departments, and any other agencies specific to the project, in order to gather current and historical information concerning the property and the neighboring area. As in the example earlier, the Gas Station next door may have been torn down years ago, but the tanks buried on their property have never been recovered and remediated and the old gas has now leached downhill onto your potential property.
  2. Site Reconnaissance
    • A visual inspection of the property, insitu improvements and planned improvement plays a critical role in a Phase 1.
    • Using a survey that is either done by our firm or provided by your surveyor, the confines of the building(s) are inspected and property boundary measurements observed and recorded. The focus of a Phase 1 inspection is environmental and does not include the structure or any of the systems of the building however, we want to be sure that everything is thoroughly inspected in order to minimize issues later and to produce a report of the high professional standards.
    • Photographs are taken of the property. Sometimes we may take a video which as a client you will be welcome to, however typically the video will be for our own use as the inspector will narrate as they are inspecting as a means of “taking notes in real time”.
    • No physical testing or sampling is conducted during a phase 1 assessment.
  3. Interviews
    • Interviews will be conducted with anyone who may have information that would help with the report. For example, past and present property managers, tenants and owners in addition to the agencies we listed above.
    • If there is concern over surrounding properties, more interviews may be conducted with people who have been or are involved with that property. Depending on the depth of these interviews, transcripts of them may or may not be in the report.
    • as stated above, agencies contacted above such as fire departments, the health department, ADEQ, water departments, etc., generally are contacted in order to gather current and historical pertinent information concerning the property and the neighboring area. 
  4. Report
    • Documentation. Findings, opinions and conclusions will be supported by documentation to facilitate the assessment.
    • Scope of Services.  The report will describe all services preformed in detail to allow for another party to reconstruct the work completed during the investigation as is good engineering practice.
    • Findings.  The Findings section will identify known or suspected recognized environmental conditions.
    • Opinion.  As Professional Engineers, our opinions of any impact on the property and of conditions identified will be included in the Findings Section.
    • Additional Investigations.  We will include an opinion as to whether or not additional investigations are necessary to further clarify any findings. Generally, this will be the recommendation to proceed with a Phase 2 Environmental Study or not.
    • Data Gaps.  Should there be any significant data gaps that affect the ability to evaluate the property these will be identified and commented on.
    • Conclusions.  A conclusion will provide a summary all recognized environmental conditions connected with the property.