• Conducting a Better Phase 1 ESA

  • Over the last 30 years of consulting I have reviewed a lot of Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) reports for a variety of purposes, including: due diligence, peer review, and for AESAC members seeking accreditation as a Certified Environmental Site Assessor (CESA).   The majority of these reports have been satisfactory; a few have been superb, and a small number were of extremely poor quality. The worst offenders usually related to an improperly scoped project and/or poorly conducted research. As such, I thought a few suggestions for practitioners to conduct better Phase I ESAs would be helpful.
    First the assessor must confirm the purpose of the ESA report and define the scope of work. If the stakeholder's objective is transactional due diligence then a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) compliant report should suffice. For regulatory approval you may need to follow specific provincial standards, such as the Brownfields legislation in Ontario (Ontario Regulation 153/04, as amended); or guidelines for upstream oil and gas facilities in Alberta or Saskatchewan. American or international clients and projects could specify the use of ASTM Standards.
    Once the appropriate tasks and regulatory criterion have been established, the scope of work should be clearly stated in the report, along with any alterations, limitations or enhancements. It may be acceptable or even necessary to deviate from a specified Standard, but such changes should be defensible, and the rationale provided so that the reader or reviewer can understand and accept these modifications. If your scope of work states that you fully adhered to a particular Standard, you must ensure that the Standard is followed diligently; or a meticulous peer reviewer or lawyer will pick up on the slightest discrepancy.
    A common deficiency I see in Phase I ESA reports is insufficient historical research. This could be the result of not searching far enough in the past to identify all historical environmental concerns, or not completing the necessary document review. The CSA Standard includes both mandatory and optional research items; my suggestion is to complete both (where available) to be thorough and diligent. If the research indicates no data is available for a particular record review item (e.g. absence of fire insurance plans or city directories for a rural site), then state that as your search result - nil findings are still considered reportable findings. The historical review should provide a complete picture of Site development and activities from first developed property use until present day, so that all potential concerns can be evaluated.
    Another deficient item I encounter relates to conducting and reporting of the Site inspection and interviews. The assessor must ensure the property and Site buildings are thoroughly inspected and documented; and that people with knowledge of the Site are interviewed. The data collected from the inspection and interviews must also be interpreted, summarized and clearly reported. Unfortunately I find that many observations regarding building construction and site activities are lacking in detail. Similarly, little consideration is given to selection of interviewees and the reporting the findings of the interviews. Both of these tasks are critical in assessing environmental liabilities.
    Conducting proper research is vital; however the findings still must be properly evaluated and relayed to the stakeholders. In a future article I will discuss some of the inherent difficulties in interpreting the results and reporting the findings of the Phase I ESA process.
    Bill Leedham, P.Geo., QP, CESA.

    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. Mr. Leedham has over twenty nine years of consulting experience in the areas of environmental site assessments, site remediation, geology, contaminant hydrogeology, geotechnical investigations and building sciences; and has conducted, managed, or peer-reviewed hundreds of ESA, remediation and risk assessment projects across Canada.