Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment is a fundamental part of the real estate due diligence process and provides critical information about environmental liabilities associated with a property being purchased.

Environmental Consulting Services > Environmental Engineering Services > Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment

What is a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment?

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (Phase 1 ESA) is an investigation of a property’s current and historical use. The process views and investigates a property in regards to former use in order to determine if there is a potential for hazardous environmental conditions which might be present on the property. Typically, a Phase 1 ESA involves an on-site inspection by an environmental firm with detailed photography to document conditions. It also reviews records for information about past ownership and uses, and determines if any of them were likely involved hazardous materials.

Lenders require a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment for all properties that are greater than 4 units. 100% of the time, lenders will require a Phase 1 ESA for commercial properties. For multifamily properties – it can go either way. A Phase 1 ESA interviews with past and present building occupants, and with owners of neighboring properties are also conducted to validate past uses. A Phase 1 ESA does not involve any testing of things like paint, soil, or moisture, though a visual inspection may indicate the presence of hazardous materials.

Our Environmental Firm offers complete, thorough and expedited Phase 1 ESA and consulting that is uniquely tailored to real estate developers. Our Phase 1 ESA’s are performed by certified environmental professionals (EP) who are predominantly looking for indications of hazardous materials or other signs of conditions which would impact the health and safety of the area due to contaminants or hazardous conditions.Our goal is to provide you with a simple process that keeps you involved & informed throughout the process. When looking at Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment companies, you won’t find a simpler choice than Essel Environmental.

Speak with one of our friendly client representatives today to discuss your needs and how we can quickly and efficiently meet them. Call us at 1 (800) 595-7616 or use our quick and easy to fill out contact form. We are here to serve you!


Quick Service

We complete Phase 1 ESAs faster than other environmental firms without sacrificing quality performance.


Personal Attention

While other Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment companies may outsource their services to the lowest bidder, we only use in-house engineers so you always receive experienced & reliable professionals.


Fast and Thorough

We have perfected the process to allow us to be fast without sacrificing quality & consistency. We make sure your lender accepts our Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment.

How Long Does a Phase 1 ESA take?

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment takes anywhere from 2 – 3 weeks. Essel Environmental will give you the verbal within 1 week to let you know whether it’s a “green light” or “red light.” Then, if you want to proceed – we will complete the report.

How Much Does a Phase 1 ESA Cost?

A Phase 1 ESA costs anywhere between $1,800 to $4,600. The cost is dependent upon property location, and the complex history of the site and its uses.

A Phase 1 environmental site assessment can confirm suspicions about whether or not a property has potential environmental risks, but it is really only one layer of a complete assessment process. It does not include collection or evaluation of soil samples, water, lithological analysis, radon testing, or another lab analysis. The Phase 1 Site assessment can determine whether a Phase 2 ESA needs to be conducted, or it can confirm that a site is indeed “clean” so that the sale of the land may proceed.

For additional inquiries, contact our team directly at 1 (800) 595-7616 – or read our blog article on Phase 1 ESA investigations.

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What Does a Phase 1 ESA Involve?

  1. Site inspection: Visual assessment of the property and nearby properties. This includes personal inspection upon visiting the site as well as photographic documentation of the property and surrounding areas. Telltale signs of environmental impact include evidence that a site may have been used as a gas station, industrial complex, garbage dump, or any number of other indicators.
  2. Record reviews: The investigator will pull and review local records of how the property was used in the past. Current owners and neighbors might not have a comprehensive history of how the property was used, so public records can provide a lot of insight on a property going back several generations. These documents include:
    • Building and use permits
    • Historical photographs
    • Planning records
    • Maps
  3. Interviews: In speaking with previous owners, workers, neighbors, and other people who might have a deeper knowledge of the overall history of the property and how it was used, we can construct a better picture of how to proceed next. Interviewing people with first-hand experience is often a very reliable way of determining how a property was used, which might not appear on the ledger or records of a City Hall. The inspector will interview the following individuals:
    • Tenants
    • Owners
    • Workers
    • State and local authorities and regulators
    • Neighbors

Why is a Phase 1 ESA Beneficial?

As part of the lending process, banks require that a property undergo a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment so that due diligence is performed prior to any money exchanging hands for a real estate transaction. As a buyer, you are getting the peace of mind that your property has been investigated and environmental hazards have been ruled out.

Otherwise, once the property is sold, you may be liable for cleanup, remediation, or other factors that contribute to the health and safety of those using the property. This can cause financial losses due to litigation, injury, construction, or even be determined to be a serious risk for your lender. Avoiding the hassle of these factors will allow you to continue with your property investment without the shadow of uncertainty hanging over your head.


Contact Essel Environmental for Your Phase 1 & 2 ESA Needs

When you are beginning the process of buying, building, selling, or any other part of the process of acquiring land, you need a team of professional civil engineers who take pride in their work. With years of experience and a working knowledge of the San Francisco area, as well as the rest of the United States, our aim is to make the process as beneficial to our clients as possible, providing for them as much information as we can collect in the spirit of full disclosure. Contact us to see what Essel Environmental Engineering and Consulting can do for you!

You’ve Got Questions. We’ve Got Answers.

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More Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Details

Site Visit

  1. Inspection of the Site
  2. Catalog the Presence of Hazardous Materials or Petroleum Products

Historical Research

  1. Historical Aerial Photographs
  2. Reverse Street Directories
  3. Building Permits
  4. Planning Records
  5. Topographical Maps
  6. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
  7. Department of Oil and Gas Maps
  8. Title Information

Geology and Hydrogeology

  1. Soil Type
  2. Geological Setting
  3. Groundwater Depth

Regulatory Research

  1. Fire Departments
  2. State Environmental Agencies
  3. Federal Environmental Agencies

Interviews and Document Review

  1. Interview Tenants and Owners
  2. Interview State and Local Regulators
  3. Review Provided Report

If you are buying or financing a property, you want to know if any contamination or hazardous conditions exist before the transaction. This is important because you may be paying the cost of the clean up. Therefore, the Phase 1 ESA is crucial in protecting the buyer or lender from future liability.

A Phase 1 ESA is conducted for commercial and industrial properties, rural land, open undeveloped land, and residential multi-family properties. As such, nearly all real estate transactions involve a Phase 1. However, for multifamily properties, it can go either way.

In addition, lenders require a Phase 1 for all properties that are greater than 4 units. 100% of the time, lenders will require a Phase 1 ESA for commercial properties.

Environmental due diligence must be performed by an “Environmental Professional” trained under ASTM standards and experienced with CERCLA requirements, with additional local requirements. It is critical for inspectors to be aware of any state or local site assessment requirements. These requirements are often different than federal ASTM standards. Typically, Phase 1 reports are performed by environmental engineering consultants.

Most authorities recommend hiring an experienced environmental consulting firm. Phase 1 reports require very specific information and language in order to protect the property buyer from future liability. Hiring a firm with insufficient experience or training can only compound your risk if the report fails to provide you with accurate data.

In accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, mold, asbestos tech, and home inspectors are not allowed to conduct a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment report, unless they meet the qualifications of being an environmental professional. Environmental firms need to include a statement of qualifications in the Phase 1 reports they conduct, proving their experience and education for conducting an ESA.

The environmental assessment will be relied on buyers, sellers, investors, lenders and insurers. The risks are high, and there’s no need to make them higher by using an inexperienced consultant.

For property buyers, it is important to know what a Phase 1 assessment is and what it isn’t.

Phase 1 ESAs do not involve any testing of things like paint, soil, or moisture, though a visual inspection may indicate the presence of hazardous materials. A standard ESA Phase 1 investigation also does not address some serious contaminants such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold. These are covered under a separate Hazardous Materials Survey. A full hazardous materials inspection is not required by a Phase 1.

There are six major outcomes from a Phase 1 ESA:

  1. Clean bill of health: No further action is needed.
  2. Recognized Environmental Condition (REC): the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in, on, or at a property.
  3. Material threat:  a physically observable or obvious threat, which is reasonably likely to lead to a release that, in the opinion of the environmental professional, is threatening and might result in impact to public health or the environment.
  4. De minimis condition: a condition that generally does not present a threat to human health or the environment, and that generally would not be the subject of an enforcement action if brought to the attention of appropriate governmental agencies.
  5. Controlled Recognized Environmental Condition (CREC): A recognized environmental condition resulting from a past release of hazardous substances or petroleum products that has been addressed to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory authority.
  6. Historical Recognized Environmental Condition (HREC): A past release of any hazardous substances or petroleum products that has occurred in connection with the property and has been addressed to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory authority or meeting unrestricted residential use criteria established by a regulatory authority, without subjecting the property to any required controls.

If anything comes up in the Phase 1 report that indicates the presence of hazardous materials, a Phase 2 is usually needed. A common dealbreaker for any real estate transaction is the presence of a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC), which can be found during a Phase 1. A REC is the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in, on, or at a property. Some RECs include dry cleaners, auto repair facilities, underground storage tanks, or even a toxic radioactive dump site.

Although a REC can be a dealbreaker, the regulations were updated in 2013 to make it possible to clear a property with a Recognized Environmental Condition for unrestricted use under certain conditions when the contamination is deemed to be sufficiently contained and controlled.

The Phase 1 is the fundamental start to the due diligence process and usually always step one. A common misconception is that a clean Phase 1 is the end of the road and you will never have to worry about anything related to the subsurface on your site. Although the Phase 1 ESA is a good way to get an idea about the history of the site, its purpose isn’t to cover everything.

Commonly, if a Phase 1 ESA is requested for a refinance and it comes back “clean” then usually that is all the lender needs. This is the simplest scenario. Unfortunately, we are always speaking with developers that have had a clean Phase 1, but as they moved forward in the development or approval process, they were required to do further investigations, soil sampling, etc.

In California, developers have to get approval through the planning commissions, building departments and other agencies. In addition, there are requirements from the approval agencies, specifically planning, to makes sure there are no potential issues in the subsurface. As a result, even though a Phase 1 ESA may be clean, the request to do a further investigation may not go away.

The subsurface is a unknown environment. There is no way to be 100% certain that a subsurface investigation would yield clean samples, even in the case of a clean Phase 1. As such, the Phase 1 won’t investigate imported soil that may have happened 50 years ago or fill material that may be present.

There is no way to know what is ahead by just relying on a Phase 1 ESA, which is why you must depend on your environmental consultant to provide with you with guidance not just on your immediate need, but also what is ahead.

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