Everything You Need to Know to Complete a Phase I ESA

What is a Phase I ESA and when is it required?

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is conducted to identify potential contamination that impacts a property and presents an environmental risk. A Phase I ESA is required as part of the due diligence process during a real estate transaction, such as property purchase, sale, refinancing, or land lease.

Typically, a financial institution (lender), will require a Phase I ESA to be conducted; however, public agencies sometimes request a Phase I before a redevelopment effort.

What is involved in a Phase I ESA and how long does it take to prepare?

Through evaluation of current and historical sources, a Phase I ESA documents the history of a property. First, an Environmental Professional (EP) will collect information from various sources, such as government databases, agency records, historical aerial photographs, historical topographic maps, fire insurance maps, city directory listings, and interviews. The EP will also conduct a site reconnaissance to identify the subject property’s and surrounding properties’ current conditions. Then, the EP prepares a report summarizing information collected throughout the process, including the findings about the environmental health of the property.

Phase I ESAs are typically completed over a 4-week period and, per the ASTM standard, are valid for 180 days.

What changes were made to the ASTM Standard for Phase I ESAs?

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) updated the ASTM Standard (E1527-21) for Phase I ESAs in November 2021. The revision was the culmination of many meetings of the ASTM Technical Committee over several years. Notable revisions to the standard include:

  • Additional focus on historical research, including adjoining properties. A more thorough evaluation of potential impacts to the subject property due to releases from adjoining properties is now required. Specifically, the required coverage of historical information sources like fire insurance maps and city directory listings have been expanded to better capture adjoining properties and their uses.
  • Enhanced environmental lien research. This enhanced environmental lien search requires research of deeds for liens and activity use limitations back to 1980. As such, the cost to prepare a Phase I ESA has increased significantly. Environmental lien research is required to qualify for CERCLA liability protections and remains the responsibility of the report user, not the preparer.
  • Rewritten Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) section. Revisions exclude evaluation of PCB-containing or suspected PCB-containing materials that are part of a building or structure.
  • Including a site plan and photographs of key site features may help identify Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs). Determining the presence or absence of RECs is the culmination of a Phase I ESA. Including site figures and photos will help the EP identify and communicate the location of RECs or other suspect areas of concern on the subject property.
  • Clarification on report validity. The length of report validity remains at 180 days. However, the revised standard requires preparers to note in the report the date that records/individual components were obtained. 
  • Deletion of obsolete regulatory databases. Obsolete databases have been removed, thus eliminating the need to review unnecessary database listings, streamlining review and report preparation.

U.S. EPA concurrence and amendment to the final AAI Rule (40 CFR 312) was finalized on December 15, 2022 (Federal Register 76578, Vol. 87, No. 240).

How can Dudek help?

Dudek’s EPs are either registered professional engineers or geologists and have conducted hundreds of Phase I ESAs, Phase I Initial Site Assessments (ISAs), hazardous materials technical reports, and hazards assessments (~pre-Phase I) across the United States for sites ranging in size from a few acres to thousands of acres. Dudek began preparing Phase I ESAs under ASTM E 1527-21 when the updates were released in November 2021, so we’re well-versed in the revisions to the Standard and can prepare a thorough, defensible product. We have evaluated commercial and industrial properties, oil fields, residences, schools, universities, agricultural operations, undeveloped land, renewable energy facilities, hotels, and casinos for acquisition, funding, and/or CEQA purposes.

Contact us for more information on how our hazardous materials management team can help you complete a Phase I ESA or other site assessment.