The Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is a broad-based inspection and discovery process designed to determine whether a particular property is or is likely to be contaminated, based on past usage. If you’re considering buying the property, conducting a Phase 1 ESA can provide important future protection.
Toward that end, the Phase 1 ESA includes:
- Historical research, as far back as possible, preferably to the time when the property was first used for commercial purposes. This includes review of maps, directories, etc. as well as public or corporate documents and official records from local, regional, state, federal or tribal agencies.
- Personal interviews with current or past landowners and/or tenants. Research and interviews are designed to uncover any formal confirmation that the property is known to be contaminated or that past uses involved storage or handling of hazardous substances. “Red flag” usage typically includes things like dry cleaning, auto repair or gas stations, dental or X-ray offices, manufacturing or other industrial activities.
- On-the-ground visual evaluation of the property itself and any buildings, especially the interior. This can include review of aerial photographs and inspection of plumbing and building materials, and sometimes also involves limited scope visual surveying to indicate the potential presence of lead-containing paint or asbestos.
- At least a brief look at surrounding properties.
- A report of findings based on information gathered during the Phase 1 ESA process. This lets you know the property is free from environmental liability or that contamination exists or appears to exist, in which case a Phase 2 assessment is recommended to determine the scope of the problem through in-depth study and analysis.
A professional environmental engineering firm can perform your Phase 1 ESA and help you put the findings in perspective. Ideally, you want to establish yourself as an “innocent landowner,” with a supportable claim you had no reason to know the property was contaminated when you purchased it. Phase 1 ESA findings can help you obtain this valuable designation that can restrict or entirely eliminate any liability for future remediation if hazardous substances are indeed present.
Photo Credit: Bryan Alexander