The First Phase aka Phase One

In keeping with the theme from my recent post about Brownfield Redevelopment I’ve realized that I need to write dedicated posts about the individual Phases for assessing contaminated land.  These Phases are very unique and I can appreciate the work involved to complete each of them.  Its really worth spending the time to describe each, since they are so detailed.  I’ve also realized that there aren’t many websites out there that are user friendly and accessible to the public with good links to the resources needed to conduct projects such as these.

I’ve been looking at this over the past few years and I’ve noticed that its very hard to find any direct training on Phased Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs).  Its not like you can just take a course on Phase One ESAs and learn everything you need to know.  I’ve seen consultants produce such a wide variety of content in these types of reports.   Its hard to imagine where their training comes from for these specific types of projects??….Likely their predecessors or some sort or supervisor taught them and now they are passing down that information to their technicians or interns…all highly variable in experiences and education.  As of 2011 the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) has attempted to level the playing field for consultants in terms of the preparation of Phase One and Two ESAs for the purpose of filing a Record of Site Condition (Brownfield Property Development – go back to my previous post for all that in a nutshell).  I’ll get into that more later…

I’m hoping that as I develop these posts I can keep a catalogue of reference material for people like consultants to use in the future to help them learn about these types of projects and to be a library in a sense, which is really the spirit of the website.

The Phase One ESA is really the backbone of the environmental due diligence consulting industry.  It all starts here and is really (to me) the most interesting portion of the whole assessment process.  Its interesting to me because every new site and Phase One tells a different story about a property’s history, how it was developed, who/what business lived there, what did they do, and what impact did they have on the land.  Some Phase Ones tell a very short and lonely story (maybe about an old farm house on some agricultural land) and some Phase Ones tell a long intriguing story about maybe an old bulk fuel storage facility, old gas station, or manufacturing plant, or a combination of many activities, some of which could have had environmental activities like illegal dumping and spills which lead to further investigation…doing a Phase One its kind of like being an environmental sleuth, looking for clues from the past that will help you solve some kind of environmental mystery.

Phase One ESAs are conducted for a number of different reasons.  For the most part banks or financial institutions trigger the need for a Phase One to be done to determine if they are lending money on a property that may be dirty and possibly become a liability for them…if they were ever to be the receiver of the land through a possible bankruptcy per se.  Its really the beginning of a transactional environmental due diligence process (if transactional is even a word).   This is done as part of the redevelopment of a property, refinancing of a property, divestment or acquisition of a property to determine if there are any areas on that subject land that could carry any inherent environmental liability.  In simpler terms, the objective is to find out if there is going to be anything in the land that could harm or cause an adverse effect to anyone or anything that occupies the property (people, animals, trees, etc.).

There are two different types of Phase One ESAs that are commonly seen done in Ontario:

  1. The standard Phase One that is used for day to day business/property transactions.  This type generally follows the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard “Z768-01 (Reaffirmed 2012) – Phase I Environmental Site Assessment“.  Because this standard is a private document I can’t post a link to it, but here is a link to the CSA website where you can buy it  If you email me at I will lend you a copy of mine.
  2. The MOE Ontario Regulation 153/04 (as amended) version of the Phase One ESA that is used for filing a Record of Site Condition.  This type of Phase One is somewhat different than the standard version as the requirements of what is completed during the assessment is strictly defined by the MOE.  A copy of the MOE’s guide to completing a Phase One ESA to the regulated standard is here

No matter what type of Phase One you are intending on completing they both have the same objective which was stated above…to find out if there are any environmental liabilities associated with a specific piece of land.  They both also have the same four fundamental components: 1) a visual inspection of the property; 2) a series of interviews with people that are knowledgeable about the property; 3) a review of records and documents pertaining to the property; and 4) the compilation of a Phase One report.  The main difference between the two is that the regulated version (for Brownfield Redevelopment purposes) is very strict in terms of what and how the fundamental components are completed and evaluated, i.e., more intensely scrutinized and defined.

I could write a post about each of those fundamental components (and maybe I will…actually I should) but for now I will keep descriptions short…

Inspections of the property are typically walkthroughs that looks for obvious signs of contamination or hidden liabilities like vent pipes for underground storage tanks or surface staining from leaks and spills.  Interviews are usually done with the property owner, or someone that is very knowledgeable about the property, in hopes of finding out what they know happened there over the years such as who the previous occupants were or history of tenants (and hopefully they are truthful and honest about it!).  A review of records can include a huge database of information, most typical sources include aerial photographs, fire insurance plans, insurance reports, waste records, MSDSs, and public records with the MOE, TSSA, and local Municipality (just to name a few).  The report itself is basically that.  All the findings that the assessor discovers is laid out into some form of a written report.  Like I mentioned before I’ve seen a wide range of interpretation of what is thought to be needed to be contained in these, some are 3-5 pages, some are over 1000 pages.  All of them have a conclusion though and that  is whether or not the property is or might be contaminated.

Generally at no point does a Phase One complete any intrusive soil or groundwater testing of a property.  And on many occasions the Phase One undergoes a review of the property’s assets to determine if there are any harmful building materials, such as asbestos, that might be of a concern.  Variations of the Phase One have been seen to include limited versions of these testing such as this but are not always normal practice.

For the sake of the reader I’d like to comment on the general cost and timeframe to complete a Phase One…but I don’t want to be misleading anyone so I make the caveat known that there are many factors that can affect the deliverable such as: where the property is, how big it is, how much history it has, how many records need to be reviewed, etc.  However, as a ballpark I’ve seen the median range (excluding the outliers) go anywhere from $1000 to $5000 for a standard Phase One and shouldn’t take any longer than a week to a month to complete.  I won’t comment on the time and costs for the regulated RSC version of the Phase One since there are so many factors in making those determinations (you can always email me offline if you are looking for some guidance with that).

As I mentioned before, what I like most about Phase Ones is their story that they tell.  I’ve read and written some that tell tales of gross negligence leading to the ugliest contamination…and I’ve read and written some that tell stories about legendary companies developing a piece of land to build their empire in industry and manufacturing, and how they toiled to clean up their land from their past activities, only to bury their dirty secrets somewhere safe in a landfill so no one will ever find them…If there is anything romantic or thrilling about environmental consulting…its the Phase One…I’m glad I was gifted with a good imagination or else it would make my day job pretty boring.




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