Environmental Assessment

What is Phase I Environmental Site Assessment ?

The environmental site assessment (ESA) is conducted to support a landowner’s defense to liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) in general accordance with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard E 1527-05. CERCLA is a federal law that was designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Furthermore, ESA due diligence is a regulatory requirement before closing a deal when buying commercial property.

It helps to identify the existence of soil or groundwater contamination such as: petroleum, heavy metals, pesticides, or herbicides as well as asbestos, lead paint or mould. Our professionals by conducting ESA based on the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standards (CSA Z-768/01 and Z768/00 (reaffirmed 2016) Standard) or the Ontario Regulation (O.Reg. 153/04) will determine whether concerned contaminant(s) exist before you buy the property. Based on environmental requirements, our professionals, also will conduct the Record of Site Condition (RSC) to summarize the environmental condition of a property to be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment for filing on the Brownfields Environmental Site Registry.

ESA reports will help you to make a mindful decision to buy the property based on condition of the sale to avoid unpleasant and costly cleanup down the road.  Most lenders today require a certified ESA report before lending money to their clients.

It is often referred to as a Phase I ESA or Phase I Environmental Assessment and is part of the real estate due diligence process.

A Phase I ESA rigorously studies historical and current land-uses of a property. Additionally, it documents the environmental liability and likelihood of contamination at a property.

While the scope of work is not absolutely defined in the Standard and can be modified in accordance with the client’s needs, there are four principles involved in the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment process:

  • Records review,
  • Site visit or inspection,
  • Interviews with property owners, occupants, site personnel, government officials and third parties,
  • Evaluation of the information and reporting of the findings and conclusions.

Record review includes searching and reviewing historical public and private records related to the subject property.  It includes in-depth review of paper and digital records from various Federal, Provincial, and Local environmental agencies which help the assessor understand uses of the property and the surrounding areas since their first development. city directories, aerial photographs, topographic maps, and fire insurance plans are critically analyzed for evidence of past environmental concerns. The major documents required for review are divided into a few categories:

  • Historical Aerial Photographs
  • Aerial Photographs
  • Building Permits
  • Planning Records
  • Fire Insurance Maps
  • Title Search
  • Database Records
  • City Directories
  • Geographical and Topographical Maps
  • Historical Insurance Maps,
  • Previous ESA Reports

Geology and Hydrogeology

  • Ground Water Flow
  • Geological Formation of the Site
  • Soil Types.

Regulatory Research

Federal, Provincial, and Municipal by-laws and Regulations

Site Inspection or a site visit, is a visual inspection of the readily accessible areas of the subject property, the surrounding areas, and the adjacent properties (if accessible). The scope of work for this part of the assessment preparation is generally defined by the CSA- (CSA Z-768/01 Standard) and the Ontario Regulation (O.Reg. 153/04) versions of the assessment. The Environmental Consultant looks for visual evidence of potential or actual evidence of concern contaminates on the Site and potential activities in adjacent properties where environmental contaminant may have migrated.  Phase I ESA physical inspection requires:

  • Qualified “Environmental Professional”
  • Owner approval
  • Knowledge of historical documents/events
  • Notes & aerial photographs
  • Knowledge environmental records
  • Above or underground storage tanks
  • Environmental activities of neighboring site

Interviews with people familiar with the site can provide information about historical uses of the subject property and the adjacent area, information about how the site is managed, hazardous materials (chemical, fuels, oils and wastes) that are managed and disposed on the site, and so forth. People that could be interviewed may include current and past owners, tenants, site personnel, or governmental staff in some cases.

Finally, the ESA report is methodical reporting of collected data analysis to determine whether contaminant(s) existence on the Site, if so, the phase II would be recommended to define the location and the extend of the contaminate(s). Otherwise, the Site would be certified as free of contaminate(s).

An environmental investigation reports potential existence or absence of contaminates on the Site. If contaminants exist, it helps the commercial property buyer make an informed decision to accept the cost of cleanup and complete phase II ESA (also potentially phase III) or avoid buying the property.

Phase II Environmental Site Assessment ?

  • The purpose of a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Report is to evaluate the presence, or absence of, petroleum products or hazardous substances in the subsurface of the site. A trained, licensed, experienced staff of geologists and engineers that possesses expertise in Phase II Environmental project design performs these assessments per the ASTM E1903-11 Standard Guide.
  • It is a systematic and  iterative process as outlined in (Z769-00 reaffirmed 2013 EAS) standard, by which an assessor seeks to characterize and / or delineate the concentrations or quantity of substances of concern related to the site compare those levels to criteria.

Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Principles

Phase II follows the principles as below:

Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Process Flow

Phase III Environmental Site Assessment - Overview

  • A Phase III Environmental Site Assessment is only conducted when contamination is found in Phase II. Once contamination is discovered, an action plan must be set in place for any remediation to occur. Phase III will closely analyze details regarding the contamination, such as the pathway of movement along with the removal and disposal of the materials that are contaminated.
  • The first step in conducting a Phase III ESA is delineation, which basically determines the volume of the contamination and its boundaries. A lot of planning is required surrounding the approach of remediation, the time it will take to complete the project, and strategizing risk management.
  • A Phase III assessment can take as little as a day if it is a simple excavation. However, that is a rare occurrence, and other remediation such as bioremediations can be months or years. It is important to realize that the process of cleaning up is unique to each project and its case. Therefore, the time it takes can vary, but removing the hazard should be more of a focus than how long it would take.
  • The purpose of conducting a Phase III assessment is to simply remove any traces of contamination and return the site to a state where no such event occurs again. Lastly, as in all ESAs, a professional will document the work done and confirm that the contamination is removed. The purpose of the Phase III assessment is to delineate the physical extent of contamination based on recommendations made in the Phase II report.
  • Typically, additional testing is conducted by the environmental engineers and consultants to determine the extent of contamination at the site. Few of the tests that are performed are:
    • Sediment Testing
    • Groundwater Testing
    • Top layer soil assessment
    • Subsurface soil assessment