01 Mar The Starting Point: Phase I Environmental Site Assessments
In previous articles, we looked at why commercial properties require environmental investigation and who requires this investigation. Now that we’ve determined that an investigation is needed, the question is: “How do we start?” Site assessment is a step-wise (or phased) process which begins, not surprisingly, with Phase I.
The goals of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) are:
1) to identify potential chemical release areas (known as Areas of Concern or AOCs)
2) to identify the substances or components, breakdown products, or derivatives of a substance potentially released (known as Constituents of Concern or COCs)
3) to identify human beings, animals, or environments that may be adversely affected by contamination (known collectively as receptors), and
4) to evaluate potential pathways by which COCs could migrate from the Areas of Concern to the receptors.
In the State of Connecticut, the Phase I also seeks to determine if the property is an “Establishment”1 as defined in Sections 22a-134 through 22a-134e of the Connecticut General Statues (CGS), and would therefore be subject to the State of Connecticut Property Transfer Act if sold. Wow! It sounds complicated. How exactly do we accomplish these goals? Read on…
In the Phase I ESA, the environmental professional (that would be people like me) reviews records of the municipality in which the subject property is located, records of the State and Federal environmental agencies, as well as information available on-line and historical information in local and State libraries. The idea is to develop a history of property use and the location of current and past operations and, from that, determine where releases of COCs may have occurred. For example, local land records and historic city directories can provide information regarding past owners and occupants of the property. Building Department records and historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Rate maps provide information about the use of the site buildings, and aerial photographs may give some clues as to where particular operations such as waste storage were conducted. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and State environmental agency records may document chemical spills, previous environmental investigations, or other evidence of contamination.
In addition to the record review, the environmental professional (again, people like me) conducts an inspection of the property and, when possible, interviews the property owners or workers familiar with site operations. Often, the only evidence of an AOC is a stain on the floor, the location and construction of a door, or an unused bracket on a wall observed during the site inspection. Think of it as CSI for the environment. The environmental professional also looks at such things as the surrounding property use, topography, and stormwater drainage patterns to identify contaminant receptors and migration pathways.
In addition to the other requirements of Phase I ESAs, investigations conducted under Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CTDEP) programs require development of a Conceptual Site Model (CSM). The CSM is a representation of an environmental system that is used as a tool for understanding and for explaining to others the basis and rationale for the site investigation and the conclusions drawn about the environmental conditions at a site. The CSM provides context for evaluation of environmental data. A CSM incorporates information about a chemical’s release, fate, transport mechanisms and pathways and any potential receptors. Effective communication of the CSM through proper documentation is essential. My experience has been that the CSM is an extremely effective tool for understanding and describing the environmental condition of the site, even if not specifically required by regulation.
A properly completed Phase I provides a clear picture of the probable location and nature of contamination and potential risks to human health and the environment. With this information in hand, the Client and the Environmental Professional can make informed decisions regarding the disposition of the property. Such decisions may include whether or not to purchase the property, what additional investigation is required, and/or how best to develop or redevelop the site. If additional investigation is warranted, the properly completed Phase I will identify the areas where samples should be collected. The State of Connecticut requires that samples be collected where contamination is most likely to be found. The Phase I provides the information needed to identify and justify future sampling locations.
One final thought: the Phase I ESA is the basis for all subsequent investigations. A poorly executed Phase I may result in unnecessary investigation in the future, failure to identify Areas of Concern within a reasonable time period, and inefficient use of resources. In other words, a poorly executed Phase I is not a cost effective way to investigate a property. Therefore, the Phase I should be conducted by qualified, experienced Environmental Professionals.
1 Establishment is any real property at which or any business operation from which (A) on or after November 19, 1980, there was generated, except as a result of remediation of polluted soil, groundwater or sediment, more than 100 kilograms of hazardous waste in any one month, (B) hazardous waste generated at a different location was recycled, reclaimed, reused, stored, handled, treated, transported or disposed of, (C) the process of dry cleaning was conducted on or after May 1, 1967, (D) furniture stripping was conducted on or after May 1, 1967, or (E) a vehicle body repair facility was located on or after May 1, 1967.