Typical cost of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments and : A Consumer’s Guide

So you’ve just bought a property, or are about to, and somebody has told you that you need a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and you want to know how much they cost. Or you want to know why some cost more than others and what you are getting for your money. This is totally understandable.

We understand that navigating the process is difficult so we are releasing the comprehensive consumer guide to help you figure out what a Phase 1 ESA is, and why it costs what it costs. To begin, lets discuss a typical Phase 1 ESA.

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What drives the cost of a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment?

The key factors are:

  1. Property Size and Characteristics
    • Larger properties with more buildings and structures will cost more, as they require more time for the site inspection and records review.
    • Rural or remote properties may cost more due to increased travel time for the environmental consultant.
    • Properties with a complex history like in the examples above or known environmental issues will also cost more.
  2. Records Review
    • Reviewing historical records, such as aerial photos, fire insurance maps, and government databases, can take significant time and effort with larger and more complex sites requiring more time and research as well as finding additional sources of information if needed. This is a major cost driver.
    • Properties with a long history or located in urban areas tend to require more extensive records review, increasing the cost. Sites will little history will be easier for the environmental professional to review than sites with a longer history. If you know that the subject property is a property without alot of history, such as a site that was built in the last 20 years and used for the same purpose the whole time, then you should let the environmental professional know right away that is the case so they can take that into account when estimating the cost. Make sure also to explicitly ask the consultant to take this minimal history into account when creating their cost proposal for you.
  3. Site Inspection
    • The time required to physically inspect the property is a key cost factor. Larger or more complex sites will require more inspection time.
    • The site inspection involves a walk-through to identify potential environmental concerns.
  4. Consultant Qualifications and Experience
    • Phase I ESAs must be conducted by an Environmental Professional with specific education, training, and experience.
    • Consultants with more expertise and credentials will typically charge higher rates.
  5. Report Preparation
    • Compiling the findings into a comprehensive Phase I ESA report is a significant task that adds to the overall cost.
    • More complex sites require more detailed reporting and analysis.
  6. Turnaround Time
    • Rush or expedited service for the Phase I ESA can increase the cost, sometimes by 25% or more.

You can see the many components that factor into the cost. Lets dive into more detail into certain components below.

Records Review

Records review is an involved and details process that requires the environmental professional to do a comprehensive review of various record sources to reconstruct the property’s history and identify potential environmental concerns. The typical records reviewed are:

  • Historical Aerial Photographs: These can reveal past uses of the property and surrounding areas, such as presence of buildings, storage tanks, waste disposal sites, or industrial activity. There can be just a few, or tens of aerials to review for the subject property and each surrounding property. And they often must be sourced from the multiple providers.
  • Sanborn Maps (if available): These historical fire insurance maps provide detailed information on past building uses, potential hazardous materials storage, and underground features. If available they are quite helpful and might make others parts of the process a little easier, but they add additional processing time.
  • City Directories: These historical listings can reveal past occupants of the property and surrounding businesses, potentially indicating past industrial uses or potential polluters.
  • Regulatory Database Searches: Federal and state environmental databases are searched to identify records of environmental violations, registered underground storage tanks (USTs), or hazardous waste generation on the property or nearby. Examples include databases like CERCLIS (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System) and RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) databases.
  • Building Department Records: These records can reveal permits for construction, demolition, renovations, or storage tanks, potentially indicating past uses of hazardous materials or potential environmental concerns.
  • Tax Maps and Filings: These documents provide ownership history and may reveal past uses or potential environmental issues reported during property transfers.
  • Title Reports and Environmental Liens: These reports identify ownership history and any outstanding environmental liens or restrictions on the property due to past contamination.
  • Other Records (as applicable): Depending on the property’s location and history, additional records like well logs, environmental site studies (if available), or military records might be reviewed.

Sometimes pursuing the records requires showing up in person and dealing with governmental organizations.

Extracting Meaning from the Records:

The environmental professional will not just compile these records; they will analyze them to identify potential red flags. For example, a history of industrial use on the property or nearby might suggest a higher risk of contamination. Discrepancies between different records could also warrant further investigation.

A closer look at the Site Inspection

The site visit is a crucial component of a Phase I ESA. It’s best to do this part with at least a base amount of knowledge of the history of the property so that you know what concerns to look out for. The complete site inspection process includes:

Pre-Visit Preparation:

Before stepping foot on the property, the environmental professional will:

  • Review Background Materials: This includes historical records, aerial photographs, regulatory database searches, and previous environmental reports (if available) to gain an understanding of the site’s past uses and potential environmental concerns.
  • Develop a Site Visit Checklist: This tailored checklist ensures a comprehensive inspection, focusing on areas of potential risk identified during the background review.

The On-Site Inspection:

The site visit typically involves the following:

  • General Observations: The professional will assess the overall condition of the property, including buildings, structures, paved areas, unpaved areas, drainage patterns, and evidence of potential environmental issues like stressed vegetation, stained soil, or unusual odors.
  • Storage Tanks: Aboveground Storage Tanks (ASTs) and Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) will be identified and inspected for leaks, corrosion, or improper labeling.
  • Waste Management Practices: The professional will observe how waste materials (hazardous or non-hazardous) are handled, stored, and disposed of on the property.
  • Drains and Sumps: Floor drains, sumps, and storm drains will be inspected for potential releases of contaminants.
  • Electrical Equipment: Large transformers and electrical equipment may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a hazardous material. The professional will identify these and assess their condition.
  • Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs): The professional will look for potential ACMs in building materials like insulation, ceiling tiles, and flooring. While sampling is not part of a Phase I ESA, noting the presence of potential ACMs is important.
  • Interviews : The professional will attempt to interview current occupants, past owners, or neighboring property owners to gather additional information about the site’s history and past uses.

Documentation is Key:

Throughout the site visit, the professional will be taking detailed notes and photographs to document their observations. These will be incorporated into the final Phase I ESA report.

What’s Not Included in the Site Visit:

It’s important to understand that a Phase I ESA site visit is a visual inspection and does not involve:

  • Sampling of soil, water, or air: Separate testing may be recommended based on the findings of the site visit.
  • Subsurface investigations: Unearthing buried objects or taking soil samples is not part of a Phase I ESA.
  • Detailed structural assessments: The inspection focuses on environmental concerns, not structural integrity.

Qualifications and Standards

The Environmental Professional (EP): Qualifications Matter

The core of a reliable Phase I ESA is the Environmental Professional (EP) who conducts the assessment. The EPA has define as EP as someone who meets these qualifications:

  • 3 years and a license: A state- or tribal-issued certification or license and three years of relevant, full-time work experience.
  • 5 years and a bachelors: A bachelor’s degree or higher in science or engineering and five years of relevant, full-time work experience.
  • Ten years experience: Ten years of relevant, full-time work experience.
  • Professional Licenses (Optional but Beneficial): While not mandatory, holding a Professional Engineer (PE) or Professional Geologist (PG) license issued by a state demonstrates additional professional qualifications and expertise.
  • Continuing Education: EPs must stay up-to-date with the latest regulations, standards, and practices by participating in continuing education programs.

ASTM E1527-21: The Guiding Standard

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International has established the E1527-21 standard, which outlines the specific requirements for conducting a Phase I ESA. This standard ensures consistency and quality across Phase I ESAs conducted by qualified professionals. This Standard has been determined by the EPA to meet the definition of All Appropriate Inquiries as required to obtain certain protections from liability under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensations and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka Superfund) Here are some key aspects of the standard:

  • Scope of Work: The standard defines the minimum requirements for a Phase I ESA.
  • Record Sources: ASTM E1527-21 specifies types of records that should be reviewed during the ESA process, such as historical aerial photographs, regulatory database searches, and building department records.
  • Evaluation of Findings: The standard requires the EP to evaluate the information collected and identify Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs), which are the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on, at, or in the vicinity of the property. Additionally, the EP needs to assess for Controlled RECs (CRECs) – past releases of hazardous substances that have been addressed – and Historical RECs (HRECs) – past releases that may have affected the property.
  • Report Content: The standard dictates the format and content of the Phase I ESA report, ensuring a consistent and comprehensive document that summarizes the findings and potential environmental concerns.

Beyond the Standards: Experience and Expertise

While qualifications and standards are crucial, an EP’s experience and expertise can significantly impact the quality of the Phase I ESA. Here’s what to consider:

  • Specific Industry Experience: If the property has a history of a specific industry (e.g., gas station, dry cleaner), an EP with experience in those areas might be able to identify potential environmental issues more effectively.
  • Geographic Knowledge: Understanding local environmental regulations and historical land uses in the area can be a valuable asset for the EP.

Choosing the Right Environmental Professional:

By understanding the qualifications and standards required for a Phase I ESA, you can make informed decisions when selecting an environmental professional. Look for an EP who possesses the necessary credentials, adheres to ASTM E1527-21 standards, and has experience relevant to the specific property you’re interested in.

Peace of Mind Through a Quality Phase I ESA:

A Phase I ESA conducted by a qualified EP following ASTM E1527-21 standards provides peace of mind by offering a comprehensive assessment of potential environmental risks. This empowers you to make informed decisions about your property purchase, renovation, or development.

The Importance of a Thorough Inspection:

A meticulous site visit forms the backbone of a reliable Phase I ESA. By combining on-site observations with background research, the environmental professional can build a comprehensive picture of the property’s environmental history and potential risks. This information empowers you to make informed decisions about your investment.

Durations and Timeframes

Here’s a closer look at the typical durations for each main component of a Phase I ESA:

  • Background Review (1-3 business days): This involves gathering and reviewing historical records, aerial photographs, regulatory database searches, and previous environmental reports (if available). The time can vary depending on the complexity of the property and the ease of obtaining records.
  • Site Visit (0.5 – 1 day): A qualified environmental professional will conduct a thorough inspection of the property, typically taking half a day to a full day depending on the size and complexity of the site.
  • Data Analysis and Report Preparation (2-5 business days): The environmental professional will analyze the collected data, evaluate findings for potential environmental concerns, and prepare a comprehensive report. The complexity of the findings and the length of the report can influence this timeframe.
  • Review and Finalization (1-2 business days): The report undergoes internal review and may require revisions based on feedback. You’ll then have a chance to review the final report before it’s finalized.

Additional Considerations:

  • Database Update Delays: Regulatory databases might experience occasional update delays, potentially impacting the research timeline.
  • Unexpected Findings: If the site visit or records review reveals unexpected environmental concerns, further investigation might be necessary, extending the overall timeframe.

Communication is Key:

It’s crucial to maintain open communication with your environmental consulting firm throughout the Phase I ESA process. Discuss your desired turnaround time with them upfront, and they can adjust the scope of work or expedite certain phases, if feasible, to meet your needs.

The Takeaway: A Well-Planned Process

While the exact duration of a Phase I ESA can vary, understanding the typical timeframes for each component can help you manage expectations. Choosing a qualified environmental consulting firm with experience in efficient Phase I ESA execution can ensure a smooth and timely process.

The Value Proposition: Why a Phase I ESA Matters

While cost is a consideration, a Phase I ESA offers significant value for your investment:

  • Reduced Risk: Identifying potential environmental issues can save you from significant cleanup costs and potential liabilities down the road.
  • Informed Decision Making: Knowing the environmental history of a property empowers you to make informed decisions about purchase, renovation, or development.
  • Improved Negotiation Leverage: A Phase I ESA report can be used during negotiations to adjust the purchase price or secure environmental remediation commitments from the seller.
  • Peace of Mind: A thorough assessment provides peace of mind and allows you to move forward with your project with confidence.

The Pitfalls of Low Budgets:

Cutting corners on a Phase I ESA can have serious consequences:

  • Limited Research: Inadequate research into past uses or environmental databases might miss critical red flags.
  • Superficial Site Visit: A rushed inspection could overlook potential environmental issues on the property.
  • Less Experienced Professional: Hiring a less qualified professional might result in a less thorough assessment.
  • Incomplete Report: A skimpy report may not adequately assess the potential environmental risks, leading to inaccurate conclusions and potentially exposing you to liability.

Finding the Right Balance:

Don’t be afraid to discuss your budget with our team at MORAN ROCKS LLC. We can tailor a Phase I ESA scope of work that meets your needs and provides an appropriate level of environmental protection for your investment. Here are some tips for getting the most value:

  • Be Upfront About Your Budget: Discuss your budget limitations with us and see what level of service we can provide within that range.
  • Prioritize Risk: If the property is a low-risk residential lot, a less comprehensive assessment might be sufficient. However, for high-risk properties (e.g., former industrial site), a more thorough assessment is crucial.
  • Get Multiple Quotes: Compare quotes from several qualified environmental consulting firms to ensure you are getting a fair price.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask us questions about the proposed scope of work, the qualifications of our professionals, and the methodology we use.

In Summary

The typical cost for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) ranges from $1,950 to $7,500, with the average being around $2,600 to $3,200. The main factors that drive the cost include:

  1. Property size and characteristics – Larger properties with more buildings and complex histories tend to cost more.
  2. Records review – Reviewing historical records like aerial photos, fire insurance maps, and regulatory databases can be a significant cost, especially for properties with long histories.
  3. Site inspection – The time required for the on-site inspection is a key cost factor, with larger or more complex sites requiring more inspection time.
  4. Consultant qualifications and experience – More experienced and credentialed environmental professionals typically charge higher rates.
  5. Report preparation – Compiling the findings into a comprehensive report takes significant time, especially for complex sites.
  6. Turnaround time – Rush or expedited service can increase the cost by 25% or more.

It is very important to work with a qualified Environmental Professional (EP) who meets the ASTM E1527-21 standards for Phase I ESAs. Phase 1 ESAs a very cheap “insurance policy” reducing your risk, informing your decisions, improving your negotiation leverage, and providing peace of mind.

We advise against cutting corners on the Phase I ESA, as that can lead to limited research, a superficial site visit, less experienced professionals, and an incomplete report. Instead, we recommend finding the right balance by being upfront about your budget, prioritizing risk, getting multiple quotes, and asking questions to ensure you get the appropriate level of environmental assessment.

Taking the Next Step:

At MORAN ROCKS LLC, we are committed to providing high-quality Phase I ESAs that protect your investment and provide peace of mind. Contact us today for a free consultation and discuss how we can help you navigate the Phase I ESA process with confidence.

Nicholas Moran

Nicholas Moran

Nicholas Moran grew up in sunny south Florida and lives in Boca Raton. He studied geologist and is a licensed professional geologist. He helps environmental and engineering companies implement software solutions to improve their efficiency and effectiveness and is Senior Geologist at MORAN ROCKS LLC, a boutique environmental consulting firm that uses the latest technology and workflow solutions to deliver personalized service at competitive prices.