Typically, environmental assessments and investigations are divided by regulatory agencies into separate phases of work, each of which are defined by specific methods, goals, or objectives. Individuals involved in property transactions and owners need to be familiar with the activities which are associated with each of these phases, so that the nature of activities at a subject or nearby property can be recognized and defined.

As part of any property transaction involving a commercial or industrial property, most lenders require that an initial environmental site assessment be performed in order to accurately assess and quantify the potential environmental liabilities present at a site. The most common and most widely accepted instrument for this purpose is the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, which consists of a non-intrusive assessment of a facility's potential environmental liabilities. This assessment should comply with the current ASTM standard for such assessments (1572-97) as well as any lender-specific requirements, these typically include the following components:

  • Site inspection
  • Interviews with key personnel
  • Regulatory database searches
  • Historical aerial photo and map reviews
  • Chain-of title / prior use review

The results of the Phase I Site Assessment reach conclusions on each identified issue of concern. If the results of the Phase I indicate that additional investigation is necessary to delineate or quantify the nature and extent of impact at a site, these activities are conducted as part of a Phase II or Initial Site Characterization, which commonly includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Subsurface investigations
  • Materials sampling and analysis
  • Surface water or sediment sampling
  • Groundwater monitoring well installation and/or sampling

Generally, the results of the Phase II investigation can be used to determine if remediation is necessary at a site. If so, the scope of investigative activities is expanded to comprise a Phase III or Final Site Characterization, in which comprehensive impact studies are conducted, and necessary physical site characteristic data is collected with the goal of assessing remedial design options. These activities include:

  • Additional soil/groundwater investigations
  • Aquifer and soil characteristic studies
  • Remedial option feasibility testing
  • Remedial option selection and preliminary design
  • Fate and transport/remedial design modeling

Finally, once final remedial design options are chosen, the Phase IV, or Site Remediation stage is conducted, in which the remedial design is implemented and operated. Generally, Phase IV work continues until remedial goals are met, and the results of the cleanup activities are accepted by the overseeing regulatory agency.

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