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What Is a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment?

Asbestos might be detected during a phase 1 environmental assessment.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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A phase 1 environmental assessment is a preliminary assessment of a property to determine if any contamination is present and what level of liability may be involved. Triggering events like an application to change zoning, change of title, or curiosity on the part of the owner can all result in this type of environmental evaluation. It becomes part of the record associated with the property and can determine the next step of environmental cleanup, if such a step is necessary.

In a phase 1 environmental assessment, a consultant will review the site and any relevant records with care, but does not perform any specific tests to check for contamination. This can include research on title history, insurance claims related to the property, and news stories on the history of the property. The assessor also visits the site to take photographs and notes. Interviews with people associated with the property can also be common.

During the course of the assessment, findings may indicate that contamination is present, or is likely to be present on the basis of the available information. For example, an inspector performing a phase 1 environmental assessment might notice asbestos tile, or could find a news story on the property that documents a history of polluting activities. If the property was used for activities known to result in contaminated waste in an era when such activities were not regulated, this could be an indicator of an environmental issue.

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Assessors consider the land itself as well as any buildings and other improvements in a phase 1 environmental assessment. They prepare a detailed overview of their findings for review by government agencies and any interested parties. The document must adhere to guidelines set by regulatory agencies to ensure that a series of important topics are all adequately covered. These guidelines periodically change, and it is important to review them before submission.

The phase 1 environmental assessment may conclude that there are no obvious problems with the property, and planned development, transfer, and zoning changes can proceed. It could also show that there is an environmental problem, or a high risk of dangerous materials on the site. This can trigger the next stage in the process, a more detailed assessment to identify contamination with testing and determine its extent. A full understanding of what is on the site is necessary to prepare plans for cleanup, and to determine who might be liable for the expenses associated with cleanup and restoration.

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