Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)

Property buyers and owners, developers, and banks realize the potential for environmental liabilities associated with commercial property use. A Phase I ESA will identify potential risks and liabilities associated with a property to provide you with information needed to make informed decisions. 

A Phase I ESA includes investigations of current and historical land use, ownership, and the tendency of a property. General activities that comprise a Phase I ESA include collecting existing environmental information, deterring surrounding land use, historical property use, a site visit, and interviews. The collected information is evaluated and compiled into a detailed Phase I ESA report. A Phase I ESA does not include sampling or laboratory analysis activities. 

A Phase I ESA is usually performed by a party considering a purchase of real estates, since the best time to determine if an environmental issue is present is before you buy. A property owner may also wish to conduct a Phase I ESA of their land to start resolving environmental issues at their own pace, so there are no surprises with bad findings later on.

What considerations are there with a Phase I ESA?

  • Phase 1 ESAs goal is to identify any Recognize environmental conditions (RECs).
  • If the Phase 1 ESA identify RECs that require further investigation, a Phase II assessment may be needed.
  • Industrial and other complex sites will require more time to review all relevant information and incur more cost.  
  • An “environmental professional”, as defined by the ASTM, is needed to sign-off on the report.
  • ESAs can be very subjective and the final decision relies on the experience of the environmental professional. The best thing you can do is hire a company that has extensive experience with Phase I ESAs so subjectivity is decreased. 
  • Phase I ESAs are valid for 6 months and may be amended within on year of the report date. 
  • Depending on the changes that have been made since a previous Phase 1 ESA was completed, in many cases it may be more prudent to generate a new report.

What is included with a Phase I ESA?

  • Prepare owner and User Questionnaires and provide these to the client.
  • Do a comprehensive database records review of all available Federal, state, local, and municipal records.
  • Review of past land use.
  • Site reconnaissance of the subject property and surrounding properties.
  • Interviews with site tenets, property owner, local officials and other applicable sources.
  • Review of previous environmental documents and reports.
  • Review of historic permits including underground storage tank permits.
  • Photographic documentation of property and surrounding properties.
  • Local geologic setting soils characterization and groundwater use.
  • Aerial photographs
  • Review of other documents such as building department records, title records, and tax assessment maps.
  • Detailed report summarizing findings, providing recommendations if necessary.


Why do I need to do a Phase 1 ESA?

In 1980, Congress passed legislation that made it so where an innocent purchaser of property would be held liable – even if they were not directly responsible themselves. As of 2019, you can use an “innocent landowner” defense as long as the purchased followed “All Appropriate Inquiries” (AAI).

To create a standard for these inquiries, the American Society for testing and materials realized their first version of the E 15 process, more commonly known as the Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment. While the E 1527 process has gone through various reviews over the years, it continues to be a set of strong guidelines that can help property buyers state protected in the event of property contamination. 

Common concerns discussed during a Phase 1 ESA

  • Underground Storage tanks
  • Former gas stations
  • Automotive repair facilities
  • Dry Cleaners
  • Improperly stored or leaking drums and containers
  • Stained and/or contaminated surface soil
  • In ground hydraulic lifts
  • Illegal dumping
  • Old electrical transformers that may contain chemicals such as PCBs
  • Unregistered dry wells
  • Wrecking yards

What does a Phase 1 ESA cost?

The cost of a phase 1 ESA varies due to many things. The ASTM and AAI requirements for the Phase I are the very stringent and are designed to protect the buyer and/or institution. More complex properties like industrial sites, former gas stations, and dry cleaners require much more time for research – making a phase I ESA more expensive. Call for a quote.