The environmental legislation and associated regulations here in the United States have resulted in many businesses, financial institutions, building owners, and tenants involved in property transactions being named as potentially responsible parties (PRPS) who may be liable for the entire cost of remediation of contaminated property. The two major federal environmental statutes, CERCLA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), while not requiring that a site assessment be conducted, provide for severe penalties for those who own or control contaminated properties, as well as those who contaminate properties.

    Types of Environmental Site Assessments Transaction Screen

    The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has published a procedure for conducting a minimal environmental investigation known as a transaction screen, which is performed on low dollar value properties and/or on properties where an owner/operator believes that environmental impairment is not likely to be a factor (ASTM Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Transaction Screen Process, E 1528-00). This level of ESA typically involves having owners and operators of the subject property complete a transaction screen questionnaire, perform a site visit to ascertain the subject property’s and adjoining property’s uses, and perform a search of government records and historical sources. Transaction screens are often designed to be conducted by someone other than an environmental professional, and the process does not require the information gathered to be presented in a formal report, or that any conclusions or opinions be provided.

    ASTM Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

    The Phase I ESA developed by ASTM (Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process, E 1527-00) addresses only contaminants within the scope of CERCLA and petroleum products. This level of ESA typically involves an environmental professional performing a site visit to ascertain the subject property’s and adjoining property’s current and past uses and physical, geologic, hydrogeologic, hydrologic, and topographic setting; performing a search of federal, state, and local government records and other historical sources; and conducting interviews with owners and operators of the property and state and local government officials. The level of detail of each task of the Phase I ESA is greater than the corresponding task in the transaction screen. In addition, the ASTM Standard requires

    that all findings be presented in a written report and that the opinions and conclusions of the environmental professional be provided to the user.

    Other – Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

    Other Phase I ESA protocols have been developed using the ASTM document as a foundation, but have gone beyond the inclusion of CERCLA contaminants and petroleum products to address other environmental issues such as asbestos- containing materials, radon, lead-based paint, and wetlands, etc.

    Phase II Environmental Site Assessment

    This level of ESA enables the environmental professional to conclude whether the property is environmentally impacted, or that it is unlikely the property has been affected. Although a Phase II ESA standard has not yet been published, this process typically includes sampling and laboratory analysis of different media as deemed necessary based on the findings of the Phase I ESA, including but limited to building materials, indoor air, soils, ground water, surface water, and ambient air. The data gathered is compared to existing environmental and human health standards to determine the site’s environmental

    and public health risks and potential remediation strategies. Occasionally it will be possible to conduct a Phase II ESA that consists only of a data search or a ‘file review’ at a regulatory agency that will enable the environmental professional to conclude that it is unlikely a property has been environmentally impacted.

    Additional Environmental Actions

    Following the Phase II ESA, further studies may be required to determine the extent of any environmental impact, to explore alternative methods of abatement/remediation, and to develop cost estimates of the various abatement/remediation alternatives. Upon completion of these studies, abatement /remediation activity is often initiated.

    Scope of Work

    In general, the scope of work for an ESA can vary according to the needs of the parties involved. The scope of work for an ESA often includes but is not limited to:

    Site History

    • Groundwater Contamination

    • Hazardous Waste/Hazardous Materials

    • Wetland Issues

    • Storage Tanks

    • Chemical Storage, Use, and Handling

    • Contamination from Off-Site Sources

    • Asbestos

    • Radon

    • Lead

    • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBS)

    • Pesticide/Insecticide Contamination