Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Checklist: Here’s What It Covers

By - Chris Barnard
Last Updated - April 11th, 2024 4:29 PM

If you’re someone who is looking to buy a commercial property, you’d have considered getting a phase 1 environmental site assessment or ESA already. 

And rightly so, as this will help you stay clear of all potential environmental liabilities that may pre-exist on the property and might pass on to you. 

You see, the environmental standards under CERCLA or Superfund are quite strict and hold property owners liable for any contamination. This includes a thorough decontamination which is not only expensive but can also affect your business. 

So it’s no surprise why property buyers like yourself prioritize a phase 1 ESA before deal finalization or acquisition. 

But it goes without saying that you should have an idea about the assessment process to get a complete picture of potential contamination. And to do so, it’s essential you’re acquainted with the phase 1 environmental site assessment checklist. 

Think of the ESA checklist as a documentation of the assessment procedure that an inspector will follow. 

Curious about what an environmental site assessment checklist covers? 

Read on as I’ve detailed everything, along with my own inputs as a commercial property inspector

What is a phase 1 environmental site assessment? 

Before we discuss the checklist, let’s first understand what the phase 1 ESA is all about. 

At its very basic, an environmental site assessment is an in-depth inspection of a commercial building or a property development site to document its environmental use. Herein, experts assess the site as well the property’s records to establish both past and present environmental conditions. 

Talking about phase 1 of ESA, it is conducted to identify Recognized Environmental Conditions or RECs as per ASTM’s standard phase I environmental site assessment process.

To put it simply, it detects potential hazardous materials or petroleum products that fall in the category of contaminants. 

The idea behind one such assessment is straightforward: To provide you with thorough information about the level of contention and environmental risk in the property. 

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Phase 1 environmental site assessment checklist: What is it? 

Now that you know what a phase 1 ESA is, let’s come to the phase 1 environmental assessment checklist. 

Often called the user questionnaire for its list of stakeholder questions, a phase 1 ESA checklist details all the information required by CERCLA’s All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) rule

Moreover, a phase 1 environmental checklist also documents the response of such stakeholders who’ve got a special know-how and experience of the property. Here, it lists the reasons why these stakeholders believe the property could contain certain contamination. 

In fact, it is for this very detail and depth of potential hazard documentation that authorities, including the courts, use this checklist to hold property owners liable. 

What does a phase 1 ESA cover? 

Coming to the billion dollar question, i.e., what’s covered in a phase 1 site assessment checklist, it is divided into four categories, with each covering: 

  1. Site visit 
  2. Review of records
  3. Stakeholder interview 
  4. Phase one environmental report 

You see, a phase 1 ESA is different from other property assessments that deal with the physical condition rather than environmental concerns. 

But what exactly do ESA specialists look for in the above four stages? 

Well, here’s a sample phase 1 environmental site assessment template with details of each of the checklist categories to understand better. 

#1. Site visit by ESA experts 

The first step in a phase 1 ESA checklist, a site visit involves detailed on-site inspections by ESA professionals. And these specialists have a clear objective: To gather all essential data that points to Recognized Environmental Condition or potential environmental contamination.

All in all, you can expect a site visit to cover the following: 

  • Exterior and interior assessment – The specialists will carry out a visual inspection of the building’s exterior and interior components. 
  • Adjoining/nearby properties – A visual exterior inspection of the properties in the vicinity will be carried out. Also, if the property owners permit, the specialists will carry out an interior assessment of these buildings. 
  • Present and past use – An essential move in contaminant detection, ESA experts will study the present operations of the property as well as locate hazards from past operations.  
  • Hazardous materials and petrochemicals – Locating hazardous substances and petroleum products is among All Appropriate Inquiry requirements. And to that end, specialists will look at the total quantity, storage conditions, and disposal standards of these materials. 
  • Storage areas – You can expect ESA experts to examine all storage tanks and containers irrespective of their size, age, and location. Moreover, even the out of service, underground, and overhead storages will be assessed. 
  • Sings of stains – Stains are an important indicator of chemical or petroleum contamination. So, any stain on the floor, wall, ceiling, stairs, etc., will be noted and analyzed. 
  • Drainage, local water bodies, and vegetation – Lastly, a site visit will evaluate the impact of contamination on the surroundings, including ponds, pits, plants, trees, etc., around the property. 

#2. Review of all available records 

After on-site assessment, the phase 1 ESA checklist calls for a detailed review and analysis of all such records that contain information about a property’s past use. 

And to do so, ESA professionals conduct an extensive background study and obtain all available documents that could point to a contamination. 

Now, if you’re wondering which records an assessment takes into account, here’s a phase 1 ESA example for record review: 

  • Documents showing historical use – Documents pointing to the property’s past use are key to establish the presence of potential contamination. So experts will obtain and analyze documents like property tax records, land title records, zoning records, insurance records, building department records, topographic mapping, street directories, etc. 
  • Land title records – Since land titles detail the list of all past property/business owners, they get special attention to understand property’s past use. 
  • All available environmental records – ESA specialists will analyze publicly available records from the federal, state, and local databases. This includes past ESA reports, property development plans, and municipal approvals to pinpoint areas with past hazards and/or maximum contamination potential. 
  • Records with regulatory agencies – if your property or any other property in the vicinity has got a mention on environmental records, then all property records available with the regulatory agencies will be reviewed.
  • Mapping and surveys – Local maps and geological surveys serve as essential records for the property’s unique geological and hydrological features. Meaning they can point to such areas that might have environmental concerns. 

#3. Interview of important stakeholders 

After property assessment and record analysis, a phase 1 environmental site assessment checklist recommends the interview of all stakeholders. Herein, all such people who have a connection with the property and knowledge about its past and present use are interviewed. 

Here’s a phase I environmental site assessment example for a stakeholder interview: 

  • Past and present owners/tenants – The first set of people to be interviewed during phase 1 ESA are the former and present owners or tenants. That’s because such individuals have close first person information about the property’s use and potential contamination. 
  • Past and present property managers – Managers are in charge of overall supervision, maintenance, and upkeep of the property. Meaning they carry intimate insider information about the property’s condition. 
  • Past and present occupants – Occupants of a property can be anyone from residents to workers to regular delivery persons and more. They can provide details of potentially hazardous materials that are either being stored presently or were stored in the past. 
  • Local or state officials – From issuing permits to monitoring waste discharge, officials from different local and state departments are closely associated with properties. So they can provide plenty of information about the property in question. 

#4. Phase 1 ESA report 

The last item on the phase I environmental site assessment checklist, the ESA report will carry details of the assessment, including such findings that point to environmental hazards. 

Also, the report will carry expert recommendations on how to eradicate potential contamination. 

You can expect a phase 1 ESA report to include the following: 

  • Property details – This will include the property’s location, size, and details of past and present owners. 
  • Relation with the client – Reports will detail what the relation your relation the ESA expert is in order to avoid any conflict of interest. 
  • Areas assessed and documents reviewed – It is standard for a phase one environmental report to provide the nitty-gritty of visual inspection and report analysis. 
  • Lack of data (if applicable) – In case some past documents are missing that affected the assessment and its ability to establish the property’s past use, it will be reported upon. 
  • Findings and suggestions – The ESA report will detail the findings of the assessment as well as suggestions to overcome shortcomings and avoid liabilities. 
  • Supporting documents – You can find all supporting documents that were used for reference attached at the end of the ESA report.

Note: An ESA report is different from a PCA report. 

Curious how PCA reports are different? 

You can go through my blog – Property Condition Assessment Report

Who needs a phase 1 ESA? 

A phase 1 ESA is essential for everyone from property owners and managers to tenants to prospective buyers and more. 

As you might already be aware, CERCLA has some pretty stringent environmental compliance standards. And this includes penalization for not fulfilling your liabilities or meeting non contamination requirements. 

Here’s a list of people who might need an environmental site assessment: 

  • Property buyers and tenants – To avoid investing in a property with potential contamination and staying clear of unwarranted liabilities. 
  • Property owners and managers – To avoid being held liable for the presence of or release of any environmental hazard. 
  • Investors/financiers – To avoid financing a property with a history of environmental lapses. 

Wondering how much you’ll pay for a phase 1 ESA? 

You can go through my blog on phase 1 environmental site assessment cost and learn everything about the cost breakdown. 

To sum up 

As you can see, a phase 1 environmental site assessment checklist carries all the details of how a phase 1 ESA is carried out and what it involves. 

So, by getting acquainted with a phase 1 ESA checklist, you can make sure that the assessment of your property is thorough and complete. 

You see, at the end of the day, it is about safeguarding your investment and staying clear of potential liabilities. 

Want to get a phase 1 ESA for your property? 

You can get in touch with us and receive a free ESA cost estimate!

At FCBI, we are a team of seasoned ESA specialists and commercial property inspectors with experience spanning over two decades. And we’ve got affordable solutions to your ESA requirements. 

Read further: Triple Net Lease Pros And Cons: What Tenants And Landlords Need To Know

Chris Barnard

Hi there! I am Chris Barnard, a licensed building inspector and the founder of Florida Commercial Building Inspectors. With over two decades in the inspection industry, I’ve delivered thousands of commercial and residential inspections across various states. During all these years, I’ve developed detailed insights on the ins and outs of building inspections, something I look forward to sharing with you through my blogs.

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