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The purpose of an environmental site assessment report is to identify any apparent and significant environmental hazards. In his publication Environmental Site Assessment, George R. Harrison, Ph.D. states that an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) may be defined as "an analysis of a specific parcel of real estate to identify environmental risks which may be present on or near the site in quantity levels which might affect the value of property rights."  Mr. Harrison further states that "the scope of the assessment is dictated by the client, and a formal written report consisting of the findings and support documentation is provided to the client by the environmental consultants."

The three levels of Environmental Site Assessments are Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III. According to Harrison, a Phase I report "has been defined as a qualitative assessment. Typically, a Phase I ESA includes a critical visual inspection of the site and surrounding sites for hazards; as well as interviews of neighbors and other parties; and review of historical records to ascertain whether or not hazardous materials may have been stored, manufactured or dumped on the site. The term Phase I generally implies that no samples are taken off for off-site testing."

Phase II report is defined as "the actual testing for specific hazards which may have been identified in a Phase I assessment, or through other actions. While the Phase I ESA is referred to as a qualitative assessment, the Phase II may be considered a quantitative assessment."

A Phase III report is defined as "management action taken on the reports of the findings of the previous phases. Management activity may be divided into two parts: 1) "a planning, which involves an assessment of the seriousness of the hazards and an indication of necessary action. Such action may be the removal of the hazard or it may be the development of a plan to manage and control it." 2) "Remediation, which involves the actual implementation of the management plan". Harrison further states that "The definitions given above are considered to be generally accepted definitions, and are based on definitions set forth in Thrift Bulletin No. 16 (TB 16), dated February 6, 1989 and on several other State and Federal publications including legislation by the U.S. Congress commonly referred to as the "Innocent Landowner Defense Amendment (to CERCLA) of 1991."

Scope of Phase I ESA

The scope of the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is to acquire, classify, analyze, and present data used to form an opinion of any environmental hazards present on or near the property being inspected. Except as stated otherwise, and subject to the Assumptions and Limiting Conditions contained in this report, the scope of the report includes the following activities:

  1. A historical review of the use and improvements made to the site.
  2. A review of the records of those city agencies that might indicate an environmental risk on or near the site based on the consultants' analysis of need.
  3. A review of the records of those states and federal agencies that might indicate an environmental risk on or near the site based on the consultants' analysis of need.
  4. An investigation of the subject and neighboring sites with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priority List or Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Information Systems (CERCLIS) list and any similar state lists.
  5. A physical inspection of the subject site and all improvements with particular attention to the use of hazardous materials in the structure or operating equipment.
  6. A review and analysis of the apparent activities of present and previous occupants to assess the possibilities that they may have stored, created, or discharged hazardous materials or waste, and an analysis of existing procedures, safeguards, permits, and notices are in place.
  7. An analysis of historical aerial photographs in an attempt to identify the construction or destruction of buildings, and the possible existence of ponds and disposal areas over time.
  8. Interviews with neighbors, occupants, lenders, and others as deemed appropriate and reasonable by the consultants.
  9. A review of reasonably available building records, a limited visual inspection, of building(s), and a limited sampling and analysis of building materials to determine if asbestos containing building materials may be present.
  10. A review of appropriate documents and inquiry of appropriate agencies to determine the potential existence of radon in the soil.
  11. A written report addressing the findings discussed above constitutes the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is recommended to abide by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The intentions of CERCLA are to initiate the clean-up of existing hazardous waste sites associated with industrial and non-industrial properties. Current property owners may be liable for clean-up costs according to CERCLA regardless of knowledge concerning contamination at the time the property was acquired. To minimize environmental liability and risk, a potential property owner can establish appropriate inquiries in accordance with CERCLA and the Innocent Landowner Defense amendment of 1986.  Based on the foregoing, the party acquiring the property must show environmental due diligence prior to or at the date of sale in order to claim an "innocent purchaser" defense.  A Phase I ESA is an accepted form of environmental due diligence for CERCLA.

Active and inactive landfills may create future development constraints.  Industrial development has occurred on several inactive landfill sites elsewhere in the city. Potential problems for building sites over landfills include differential subsidence, structure failure, and methane gas migration to buildings above.  Surface drainage or runoff from the landfills and underground seepage into surrounding watersheds also pose potential environmental hazards.

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Geologic Assessment Reports

For properties located over the Recharge or Contributing Zones of the Edwards Aquifer, a Geologic Assessment Report (GAR) is usually required as a precondition to site plan approval. The GAR is prepared by an engineering geologist who surveys a particular tract and maps contours and salient features to predict storm water surface flow. He is especially careful to note critical karst (cave) features which expedite storm water entry into the aquifer. The Geologic Assessment Report is submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as an essential component of the required Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP) for commercial development over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge and Contributing Zones. The GAR and WPAP in turn are essential components of the overall Site Engineering Plan.  Staff geologists at the TCEQ compare the GAR with the developer's WPAP to judge whether the developer's proposed engineering controls (e.g., water detention and filtration ponds) will ensure zero degradation of stormwater flowing into the aquifer as a result of the project's impervious cover.

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