Buying a piece of commercial or industrial property can be an exciting proposition for those starting or growing a business. It’s a time for new ventures and – hopefully – growing profits. But often, there are many risks that come with such a transaction, especially if you’re purchasing a property where the last owners/tenants may have left behind more than an empty building sitting on a piece of land.
This is where the EPA’s Phase I Environmental Site Assessment comes into play. Set forth with guidelines from the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Phase I E 1527-05 assessment covers what most real estate professionals would describe as “the basics” and is essentially a visual assessment. Specifically, these assessments usually include:
• An onsite visual inspection that considers issues such as the state of vegetation and the proximity of the property to refineries, chemical plants, power plants, and other such industry.
• A risk assessment that takes into account neighboring properties and their effect on the property in question.
• The history of the property
• Aerial photographs of the property
• Drainage maps
• Additional visual inspections to locate things like lead-based paint or asbestos
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and just how thorough – or un-thorough – it is. For example, such an assessment, as previously stated, offers a visual inspection but DOES NOT demand that any air or water samples be taken or that any sort of samples be taken from buildings that currently stand on the property. That means asbestos and other dangerous toxins can easily be overlooked.
Environmental scientists point out that most property buyers believe testing for asbestos is always included in these assessments. In reality, the American Society for Testing and Materials guidelines exclude a number of issues that might cause concern including radon, indoor air quality, lead in drinking water, biological agents, and mold, as well as asbestos-containing building materials and lead-based paint.
In fact, companies that perform these Phase I Environmental Assessments are not even required to make recommendations after the testing. They are only required to issue a report to the prospective buyer and his agent.
However, a buyer can protect himself by requesting that the certified environmental professional he or his agent hires adds asbestos and air quality testing to the list of tasks performed during the assessment. This is of special concern if the property being considered was built during a time when asbestos use was rampant. Any asbestos left behind on the property should raise a red flag.
This testing will no doubt require additional charges but is essential not only for peace of mind but for the health and safety of those who will be working at the site in question. Also, agents and buyers should be sure that they hire certified and licensed environmental professionals. Often, these individuals have degrees in engineering and/or geology and are well-versed in the field of environmental risks.