What You Need to Know About Environmental Site Assessments

What You Need to Know About Environmental Site Assessments

boehm  /   August 31, 2022

What is an Environmental Site Assessment and How Can It Affect My Commercial Property?

In certain situations, owners of commercial properties may need to have Environmental Site Assessments done. An ESA evaluates a property for the presence of chemicals or substances that can be toxic to the environment. When commercial property owners or buyers need an assessment of a site where a manufacturing business or property development is located or is proposed, an ESA might be conducted.

Environmental Site Assessments

The property owner or buyer does the assessment seeking CERCLA liability protection. CERCLA is an acronym for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which is the 1980s law for establishing when a property owner or other persons are liable for a toxic site. An ESA is conducted by property owners or potential buyers to establish clearly what site mitigations steps are needed, whether for past contamination or to prevent it in the future, and to absolve themselves of liability.

Who initiates the study?

An ESA can be triggered when a commercial property owner presents permit application on plans for a construction project on the property or plans for a business that will impact the environment. County, state or federal regulations may call for an ESA if the construction or business will produce wastewater, discharge gases or chemicals into the air and other effects.

A study may also be ordered by a regulatory agency if it believes an existing site may have toxic contamination, or to establish steps needed for a proposed facility to operate. Finally, a lender may order a study on a property for which it is considering making a loan.

Who conducts the study?

The site assessment is conducted by a certified Environmental Professional, as recognized by the American Society for Testing and Materials. An Environmental Professional has degrees in engineering or related sciences, is a licensed Professional Engineer or Professional Geologist with five years of experience in those fields, and has 10 years of experience in environmental assessment assisting or interning with an EP.

The standards are rigorous, and your ESA must be conducted by a bona fide EP to be accepted as legitimate.

Environmental Site Assessments

What will the study determine?

Whether for an existing or a proposed site, the study will determine whether environmental exposures will be minimal or significant, and the steps needed to mitigate exposure. A multidisciplinary approach is taken, employing expertise in chemistry, geology, botany and atmospheric physics.

The study looks at the types of contamination found or for which there is potential, the impact on the site itself and neighboring properties, the history of the property, previous permits filed with government agencies, topography maps to determine runoff flow and more.

The assessment also helps establish liability for environmental contamination; who the responsible parties are who should pay for mitigation. This is where CERCLA liability comes into play.

What types of sites need an ESA?

The types of sites for which an ESA is needed include:

Natural gas production plants

Electricity generation plants and substations

Manufacturing plants

Metal processing and manufacturing

Rock quarries



Any of these sites near environmentally sensitive areas such as wildlife reserves and wetlands

Wastewater processing


Food processing plants

Highways, dredging for lakes and waterways

Phases of ESA

ESAs are conducted as Phase 1 and Phase 2 if needed.

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