Phase 1 environmental surveys

Accredited Environmental Technologies, Inc.         





Phase I ESA's

Your Standard Contract

Our Recommendations

Not All EPs are Equal

Recent Project Experience

HUD First Agency to require Vapor Intrusion Screening


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CONTACT..........Harris Brody, CIH at AET.

     Phase I ESAs constitute “an all appropriate inquiry into the previous ownership and uses of a property to identify the presence of recognized environmental conditions (RECs)”.  During real estate due diligence, Phase I ESAs are designed to inform the buyer and/or seller of RECs which may have an adverse environmental impact on the sale, resale, or future use of the property.  Further, completion of a Phase I satisfies one the of the requirements to qualify for landowner liability protection under CERCLA to minimize business environmental risk. 

     Phase I ESAs are performed in accordance with the standard methods and procedures contained in ASTM Standard E1527-05.  Phase I ESAs must be performed by an environmental professional (EP) whose education, training and experience (i.e. credentials) are also defined in the ASTM Standard. 

Your Standard Contract

     Virtually all requests for proposals (RFPs) and resulting contracts to perform Phase I ESAs indicate “work shall be performed in accordance with ASTM E1527-05". 

     Questions #1: Do you know the scope of services and specific limitations of services detailed in the ASTM standard?

     Question #2: Have you added in specific quantitative investigations in addition to the Phase I requirements (such as asbestos surveys or mold evaluations into your RFPs) for better decision-making and evaluation of the true cost of property ownership?

     Question #3: Is the time frame for completion of the Phase I sufficient for follow-up Phase II investigations and to allow for negotiations regarding price, responsibility and liability prior to property transfer?

     Remember!  Phase I ESAs are qualitative investigations based on visual inspection, research and interviews and do not include any quantitative sampling.  All too often, the result of a Phase I ESA is the conclusion by the EP to complete a Phase II to evaluate the RECs identified.

     Know the ASTM Limitations!  A listing of 12 ASTM Limitations are found in AET's White Paper entitled “Real Estate Acquisition Due Diligence Limitations of Phase I Site Assessments” and is available on our website.

Our Recommendations

  1. Don't rely on standard ASTM Protocol for your decision-making on the property.  Add to your RFPs specific Phase II investigation requirements based on the age and prior uses of the property.
  2. Keep communications open with the EP throughout the Phase I process.  There should be a mandatory conversation during or immediately after the site reconnaissance to discuss significance (i.e. any deal-killer findings).
  3. Always provide the EP flexibility to further evaluate identified RECs by sampling any deal killer (big $$$ items) based on client written approval. 
  4. Ensure the timeframe for completion gives you sufficient time to request additional investigation  efforts (Phase II ESA, asbestos, lead, radon, etc.) to make your decisions and complete any negotiations on the property.


  • High Volume, Low Cost EPs almost exclusively use national data providers (such as EDR) to gather regulatory data for a site and surrounding area.  It is the data provider who actually reviews federal and state records, organizes this data in a geocoded format by longitude and latitude and conveys this data in a radius format to the consultant which conforms to ASTM E1527-05 requirements.     Problem: The EP must evaluate the quality of the data based on his/her personal site reconnaissance, research and interviews. Proverb: Garbage in equals garbage out.

  • National EPs frequently purchase the enhanced data packages which include aerial photographs, fire insurance maps, historical topographic maps, city business directories and even deed searches.  This can result in even less “boots to the ground” investigation by the EP.  Local EPs are more likely to visit local or county planning commissions, libraries, obtain building/zoning or permit data, when needed, and conduct a second site reconnaissance.  Periodically, this missing data is the smoking gun in the decision-making process.

  • EP Site Reconnaissance is a critical step in Phase I performance and professionalism. AET believes a single EP should be responsible for the entire Phase I and must perform the site reconnaissance himself.  Some EPs are corporate executives who review the data and compile the final report.  The actual legwork of the site reconnaissance, research and interviews are performed by a field technician.  Misunderstandings, mis-communications and mistakes do occur.  Proverb: As Napoleon Stated "A picture (visual inspection) is worth a thousand words."

  • EP Insight/Experience is the primary controlling factor to minimize errors.  At AET, Phase I's are performed by only three EPs (2 are CIHs).  All three have greater than 15 years field experience.  Our standard operating procedures include close interaction and communication between EPs to discuss our findings and conclusions prior to issuance of the final report.   Proverb: The more eyes the better.

RECENT PROJECT EXPERIENCE:  Real Problems and Solutions

  • Unlisted Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Site: During an interview with the current property owner, the existence of a former gas station was revealed on the SE corner of the property.  Regulatory data provided by a national provider found no evidence of a LUST for the property or surrounding area.Solution: AET directly contacted the PADEP records clerk for the Southeast Region and inquired as to the existence of any files for the site address.   PADEP replied that an open file existed for this unlisted site.  Subsequent review of this file identified existing groundwater contamination at the former gas station site which was migrating off site.  AET's efforts allowed our client to indemnify themselves from the liability presented by the LUST. 
  • Adjoining LUST Site:  AET was hired to review/update a Phase I at a NJ property.  The Phase I was less than 1 year old and identified a gas station diagonally across from the property.  However, the Phase I failed to consider the possibility of vapor intrusion into the client's property as groundwater can be contaminated from MTBE and Benzene, common constituents of gasoline, and can travel a long distance in the subsurface.  Solution: NJDEP file review confirmed remediation actions had been implemented at the gas station for the previous 25 years.  Groundwater contamination had migrated off site to the SW of the property but away from the subject site.
  • Conflicting Data UST'S:  The original Phase I on this NJ property identified 2 USTs.  This finding was based solely on UST registration records.  AET's site reconnaissance and interviews identified only 1 UST. Solution: AET reviewed local building permits and identified the one abandoned UST, but also delineated a 2nd UST in a separate building.  This building was now at a new address as the property had been subdivided.
  • Asbestos “Add On”:   The original Phase I at this NJ property included an asbestos survey supplement which included 20 suspect ACMs.  AET's site reconnaissance and report review found sampling missed many of the real high cost asbestos abatement deal killers for the property. No sampling of plaster or ceiling tile had been performed.   Solution:   AET performed a comprehensive asbestos building survey and confirmed large quantities of floor tile, ceiling tile and exterior plaster as asbestos containing.  Asbestos removal cost estimates were provided to the client and cost reductions were negotiated into the property transfer. 
  • Property Conversion to Residential Condos:  Review of the Phase I found the consultant properly identified the site as a previous boiler manufacturer but failed to explore the potential hazards from this previous site use.  The final report indicated “No RECs were found”.Problem:  Environmental contaminants were found below floorboards.  A Phase II  investigation should have been recommended before the property purchase.  This is imperative especially because of the conversion to residential use. 

HUD First Agency to RequireVapor Intrusion Screening

     Effective September 18, 2009, Phase I ESAs conducted for HUD's Office of Multifamily Housing Development must include a Tier 1 vapor intrusion screen in accordance with the ASTM E 2600 Standard.  More information regarding vapor intrusion will be available on future newsletters.  A reference for HUD's vapor intrusion guidelines is found on AET's website links under (HUD MAP Guide, Environmental Protocols).

          Call 800-9696-AET or 610-891-0114
                        to discuss any Phase I 
                related questions or concerns.

Alan Sutherland has been a Certified Industrial Hygienist since 1978 with over 30 years of CIH-related environmental consulting experience. He has a Masters Degree in Environmental Science from Drexel University and is the founder/owner of Accredited Environmental Technologies, Inc. (In 1984). He is uniquely trained and licensed as an Environmental Professional in both the field and laboratory. He has been the founder of two AIHA Accredited Laboratories and a mentor to six (CIHs). Mr. Sutherland is also a Certified Hazardous Material Manager. He can be reached directly at 610-891-0114 or email

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