The scope of work for Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments is largely defined by ASTM Standard E1527-05 (American Society of Testing and Materials).   The E1527 Standard was published first in 1993 and was updated in 1997, 2000, and 2005.   The Standard is due for an update.   But before the ASTM committee gets too far along, I think the most important question is:  What do the users of these reports want?    Do Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments generally meet your needs?   I am writing this blog to collect these comments.  

A few ideas that are in play:

Environmental Professional Does Site Visit

Who should do the site visit?   The current standard is flexible and flexible means that for low-cost providers the site visit could be done by a 22 year old.   Would clients like to see a requirement that an environmental professional (currently defined as 5 years experience plus an appropriate degree) do the site visit?   This change would no doubt increase quality, but would likely increase price too.

Vapor Intrusion

A lot of contaminants are volatile chemicals that can migrate not only in liquid phase, but in vapor phase.  These vapors can migrate up into a structure, potentially causing a minor (or less commonly, major) health risk to the tenants. 

Science and regulations have advanced considerably on this subject in the past 10 years.  An update to the standard will likely consider requiring more diligence on neighboring properties in support of vapor intrusion.

An important issue no doubt, but more diligence on neighboring properties could again raise the cost of a Phase I ESA.

Remove Requirement for Environmental Lien Search

The most recent update to ASTM E1527 came in 2005 and added the requirement of an environmental lien search.   This is a rather expensive element of the Phase I ESA scope of work.   An environmental lien search may cost $200 extra per parcel, so if the site is an assemblage of 8 parcels the consultant would have to pass on $1,600 extra to their client—not a welcomed surprise.   

A lot of consultants work around this requirement by saying that this element is fulfilled by title. 

One reason that I support removing this requirement from the standard is that environmental liens are rather rare.   My firm, Partner Engineering and Science, does 8,000 Phase I Environmental Site Assessments per year.   Out of those reports in the past 12 months, we have seen statistically very few environmental liens – only a handful.  In the cases where they were identified,  the site was quite contaminated and we identified the contamination from several other sources (such as regulatory review), rendering the environmental lien redundant. This makes it hard to recommend a client spend the extra money on a lien search.

Definition of the Subject Site

Consultants are routinely asked to do one Phase 1 Environmental Report on multiple adjacent or nearby properties.  This is often easy and cost effective to do, especially on immediately adjacent properties; however, sometimes it does not make logical or financial sense.  If the properties are adjacent but have nothing to do with each other operationally, lumping them together can make the report read awkwardly.  

What about when the properties are across the street from each other, a couple hundred feet apart, or a quarter mile apart?  At a certain point, the consultant might have to order and review two separate sets of regulatory and historical information, raising the cost. 

So, where should consultants draw the line on defining the Subject Property?  

ASTM Committee Disclaimer

While I am a member of ASTM, I am NOT a member of the ASTM Committee that is writing this standard (members vow not to discuss potential changes with the outside world).  Most of these and other topics are frequently discussed within other environmental community forums, so we believe they are being discussed within ASTM as well.   I have plenty of access to committee members and plan to pass along my views and the views of my clients on the standard.

Please Comment

If you are a report user, please comment on how you feel the standard of care for Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments meet your needs.  Comment publicly below or send me an email at [email protected].