Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment is a comprehensive review that follows ASTM Standards to evaluate the environmental risk of a property. It is often referred to as a “Phase 1 ESA” for short, and is typically part of the real estate due diligence process. A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment studies historical and current land-uses of a property. Additionally, the report documents environmental liability and the likelihood of contamination. For instance, an apartment complex today, may have been a gas station 90 years ago. And the gas station may have contaminated the soil. Updated December 1, 2018. 

The evaluation is also per the guidelines of EPA standards. Additionally, Phase 1 ESA reports can defend innocent landowners from unforeseeable environmental burdens. When discovering environmental issues in a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Report, soil testing may be recommended. This is known as a Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment, also referred to as a Phase 2 Subsurface Investigation.

  • Nationwide Bank-Approved
  • Lender-Authorized 
  • Certified Engineers & Geologists
Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment at an Industrial Site

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment ©Marytka

Ordering a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment is typical when seeking a loan on real property. In this case, multiple parties need reliance, giving reason for a Phase 1 ESA Reliance letter. Obligations and rights to report the results of a Phase 1 ESA to outside parties and agencies can be complex. Thus, a professional consultation and advice under legal counsel are recommended for such matters. And for information about how much a Phase 1 ESA Report costs- please click here.

Phase 2 ESA 

Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment is a subsurface investigation recommended by the Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment. To illustrate, a Phase 2 ESA typically includes soil and groundwater testing. Furthermore, a Phase 2 Subsurface Investigation can include geophysical evaluations to find underground tanks and pipelines. Moreover, a Phase 2 investigates whether contamination exists or not. The scope of work is based on the recognized environmental conditions from a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Report. If no recognized environmental conditions are identified, a Phase 2 ESA is less likely to be recommended.

Other environmental conditions which can warrant further investigation are Environmental Issues, CRECs, HRECs and other De Minimis Conditions. Although methane soil gas is an apparent environmental concern for developers today, there doesn’t appear to be an ASTM standard for recommending additional subsurface investigations of methane at this time. However, based on site specific information obtainable during the Phase 1 ESA process, the environmental professional may recommend a methane test anyways. In most cases, properties within a high methane gas zone are likely to include recommendations for methane testing.

Phase 1 ESA at Pre-Purchase

To regulate Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Reports, the US EPA established the All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) rule. When Phase 1 ESA Reports qualify, they can provide landowner liability protection. Additionally, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has produced standards for Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments.  At the same time, these standards comply with CERCLA’s Innocent Land Owner (ILO) defense policies.

Landowners looking to qualify for CERCLA liability protection will require a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Report. The Geo Forward team prepares all Phase 1 ESA Reports to meet these requirements. In particular, the EPA’s All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) and the ASTM.

Additionally, Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Reports for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also follow these standards. As a result, the report becomes compliant with the “Multifamily Accelerate Process.”

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Explores and Documents Earliest Available Records of Land Use

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Explores Records of Industrial Land Use

Limited ESAs

In some cases, a Phase 1 ESA Report isn’t necessary to start off. Some lending institutions, along with the SBA, initiate due diligence in the form of limited investigations. In fact, a limited environmental site assessment such as a desktop environmental report or a transaction screen assessment can serve as a preliminary tool to evaluate risk. Based on the findings of these limited reports, there may or may not be a recommendation to follow through with a Phase 1 ESA.

Phase 1 ESA Reviews Government Files & Maps

Phase 1 ESA Reviews Government Files

Scope of Work

Phase I Environmental Site Assessments require certification by environmental professionals, such as geologists and engineers. To illustrate the components of a typical Phase 1 ESA, the following items are part of the assessment.

  • Job Site Visits
  • Historical Property Information
  • Regulatory Agency Files
  • Database Reports
  • Study and Analysis of Geology and Hydrogeology
  • Vapor Intrusion Risk Analysis
  • Environmental Liens and/or Activity Use Limitations
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
Phase I ESA Includes a Review of Historical Aerial Photographs

Phase I ESA Includes a Review of Historical Aerial Photographs


Suspicious Low-Cost Phase 1 ESAs

A low-cost Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment typically performs below the required standard. Usually, suspiciously low-costing Phase 1 ESAs contain major errors and omissions. Errors on a critical assessment like this can result in expensive legal and regulatory agency fees. Moreover, there could be a requirement to cleanup unforeseen contamination. Consumers should be aware of the fair industry standard pricing of a Phase 1 ESA.

Case Example (Year 2018, Los Angeles, CA): Company-A is commissioned to conduct an environmental review on a property. Company-B prepared a low-cost Phase 1 ESA report on the same property. During the review, Company-A found significant errors and omissions. The low-cost report by Company-B missed that there had been a gasoline station and underground tanks on the property for over a decade. Consequently, the low-cost Phase 1 ESA report by Company-B disqualifies under Innocent Landowner Liability Protection Policy. And the owner of the property is faced with high legal costs and cleanup responsibilities.

Environmental Questionnaire

Initially during the due diligence period, an environmental questionnaire can be required. This typically applies to sales or financing of the Subject Site. The information within an environmental questionnaire is valuable to the Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment process. The form provides facts about the property, under a legal certification of good faith. Under this presumption, a basic level of environmental risk can be evaluated and used as a tool to enhance the accuracy of the Phase 1 ESA report. However, a Phase 1 Environmental report does not solely rely on this information.

User Data Request Form

In some cases, a User Data Request Form will be required with a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment. In fact, this form assists in satisfying the Brownfields Act for Innocent Landowner Liability Protection, and the “All Appropriate Inquiry” determination. Consequently, the User Data Request Form inquires about the User’s knowledge of environmental cleanup liens, activity or land use limitations, purchase price to fair market value, and other specialized information.

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment at Industrial Sites with Tanks

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment ©Alainjuteau

Reliance Letters

A reliance letter is a legal document which allows environmental professionals to authorize Lenders and the SBA to use and rely upon their technical reports. These letters typically serve as an extension of liability. Thus, an additional cost is applies. The letter is not an update or modification to the original Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment report. As a result, a reliance letter implies no warranty that the condition of the property is the same as it was on the date of the Phase 1 ESA. A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment reliance letter can cost approximately $250 to $600.

Geo Forward can customize Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment formats to any preferred report structure.

For more information about Phase 1 ESAs, please call (888) 930-6604 to speak with a licensed professional engineer or geologist. 

Related Links

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund Website

§312.20 All Appropriate Inquiries – United States Government Publishing Office

United States EPA – Innocent Landowners

American Society of Testing and Materials


Forward-Thinking Geologists, Engineers, and Contractors!

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