North American Coalition for Maintaining Mother Earth

Posted by Adrianna On December - 20 - 2017 0 Comment

With stricter regulations on industrial manufacturing and development coming from the Environmental Protection Agency, more properties that were home to industrial activities that were previously considered environmentally safe are now deemed as brownfields, or environmentally contaminated. Before new development and economic activities can occur on these properties, extensive assessments, testing and remediation will often be necessary. Additionally, many properties that saw industrial activities have yet to be tested under today’s new environmental standards, and a new business owner may find a property undesirable because it comes with too much risk. For that reason, many business owners have questions about environmental site assessments, if their business needs one, and how much they cost.

What are Brownfields

A brownfield can include a variety of different types of properties where industrial or commercial activity has occurred in the past. An environmentally hazardous substance such as a petroleum-based oil product may have contaminated either the groundwater, soil, or buildings on the property in previous years. Once a property is identified as a brownfield, commercial development or activities cannot be completed until the property is assessed by an environmental professional and environmental remediation of the property occurs to remove the environmentally hazardous substance.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

Environmental site assessments are sectioned into different types of phases because not all phases may be necessary, or they may be carried out by different consultants or organizations. Therefore it is important to separate the service of conducting environmental site assessments into sections. Phase I Environmental Site Assessments are the starting steps of identifying if a property has the potential of having environmentally hazardous materials present. No soil or groundwater sampling is done in this phase and involves a study of the environmental situation of the property. A trained environmental consultant will review a series of documents, property information, and historical information of the area to determine environmental risks. The environmental consultant may also reach out to neighboring property owners to find out if their properties may be responsible for contaminating the property in question. The environmental engineers may also visit or reach out to local and state agencies, such as the building department, fire department, economic planning department, or water department. This whole process typically doesn’t last longer than three or four weeks.

Based on the level of previous industrial activity, and the surrounding properties, the environmental consultant will determine if the property is at risk of environmental contamination. This is information is presented to the client and all stakeholders of the property in the form of a written report. If environmental contamination risks are low, and remediation is not deemed necessary, the report can be used as a legal document for a variety of purposes (listed later). If environmental contamination may be present, the report determines which contaminants could be present, and where specifically they would be located.

Why Get a Phase I ESA?

Transfer of Ownership

When a person is interested in purchasing a property that was home to previous industrial activity, they would want to avoid walking into a money pit by having the site assessed for risks of environmental contaminants. Additionally, a property owner may want their property to be more enticing to more buyers by verifying that there is no risk of environmental contaminants through a Phase I ESA.

Loans or Refinancing

If a business is interested in purchasing a property with the assistance of a loan from a bank, or if the existing property owner is looking to extend or refinance the property, a bank may not give them a loan or may offer the loan at a higher interest rate if the property has not conducted a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment recently. If the property were found to be contaminated after the purchase of the property was made and their loan was authorized, and the owner of the property was to default on their loan, the lender would inherit ownership of the property and any environmental liabilities associated with the property. For that reason, banks and lenders may require additional testing to be done that goes beyond what the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) would require for environmental due diligence.

Encourage Economic Growth

A city or local government who may be managing a potentially contaminated property may want the property assessed and cleaned up to help encourage new businesses being able to use the land and to enhance the public image of the regional area.

Phase II Environmental Site Assessments

Once environmental engineers have an idea of the type of contaminants may be present, and where they may exist, they can begin testing to find out if they are present and in what quantities through a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment. Depending on what they believe may be present, soil samples, groundwater samples, and building material samples may be collected. Geophysical testing may also be done to locate buried underground storage tanks that may be filled with hazardous materials. Dry wells and floor drains may also be tested, and drums and above ground storage tanks may be sampled. Building structure and deterioration sampling may be conducted as well. All samples are taken back to the lab or tested on site for the presence of environmentally hazardous substances like heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, asbestos, and mold.

If environmentally hazardous substances are found, more extensive testing will be conducted to find more specific information on the substances present through a Phase III Environmental Site Assessment. By this point, the environmental consultants will know that remediation, or removal of the environmentally hazardous substances, is necessary. Phase III helps to answer questions like what are the options for remediation, what are the logistics and barriers of cleanup, and how much remediation will cost.

Once the Phase III ESA is completed, planning for a timetable of remediation is conducted, and funding sources are pooled.

What Standards are Followed

Environmental professionals must follow the standards and procedures set by the ASTM, or the American Society for Testing and Materials. The standards are specifically E 1427-05 and E 2247-08 for Phase I environmental site assessments, and E 1903-97R02 for Phase II environmental site assessments.

How are Environmental Cleanups Funded?

Usually, an environmental cleanup of a property can be funded by a local, state, or national governmental organization. The Environmental Protection Agency awards grants and funding to a variety of organizations for brownfield assessment, which includes all of the environmental site assessment phases, as well as cleanup costs.

Additional Information

For environmental consulting and engineering professionals, the ASTM offers three-day training courses on Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments. They are useful regardless of experience to help stay up to date with changing regulations and standards.

NEEDDA, or the National Engineering and Environmental Due Diligence Association, is a non-profit organization that promotes the interests of engineering and environmental firms and provides education, conferences, publications, research and certifications programs.


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