What is Examined in a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (Phase 1 ESA) – Preliminary Site Investigation ?

Many of our long term repeat clients are aware of what is examined in a Phase I ESA.  For clients who never had to undertake an Environmental Site Assessment, the process and what is examined as part of the Phase 1 ESA is often largely unknown.  Generally the first time new clients may have heard of the requirement for a Phase 1 ESA is when they are applying for finance on a property and the request is from their financier. Firstly, the reason a Phase 1 ESA is requested is to assess the risk of contamination on the site from either on-site or off-site activities or previous historical uses.  It is a Risk Assessment which is undertaken as part of the Due Diligence process for property purchase, refinancing or change of use to a more sensitive use.  This is extremely important as if a property is purchased with contamination present then it is generally the responsibility of the new owner.  It can be difficult legally to recover funds from previous or nearby owners who may have been responsible for the contamination on the site. Clean up costs can in some cases be high and in extremely contaminated sites be more than the value of the site itself.  Likewise the assessment of potential contamination is extremely important for the change of use of a site to a more sensitive use.  An example of this can include a change of use from industrial or manufacturing to residential or child care.

So what is a Phase I ESA and what is undertaken as part of the Phase 1 ESA report ?

The assessment process begins with what is called a Records Review.  The purpose of the records review is to review existing and historical records (including historical aerial photographs) of both the subject property but also within the required Provincial buffer distance which varies between 250-300 metres.  This buffer distance is from the property boundary and therefore covers quite a large area.  The reason for examining other properties in the locality of the subject property is that nearby property uses can result in contamination to the subject property.  This can be from run off, spills, pipeline breaks, groundwater contamination and air pollution etc. There are a range of higher risk activities which can result in off-site contamination with common examples including gas stations, dry cleaners, metal fabrication, vehicle servicing, foundries, electroplating facilities, municipal tips, tanneries, waste and vehicle recyclers.

Once the records review is completed the Field Assessment (which is a detailed site assessment of the subject site) is undertaken on the site along with the required buffer from the site boundary. The assessment looks for Areas of Potential Environmental Concern (APEC) both on site and off site which may have resulted in potential contamination of the subject site.  This often includes interviews of persons who have a good knowledge of the site which often includes neighbouring properties .

The next stage is the Report Writing which compiles all of the background information (including analysis of this information) along with the findings of the on-site assessment.  The report provides a Risk Assessment of the site in relation to its historical and current uses.  Depending on the risk, sometimes a Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment (Phase II ESA) is required which generally includes soil and groundwater sampling and analysis.