The purpose of a Phase 1 environmental audit is to establish yourself as an “innocent landowner” before you actually become the legal landowner. Therefore the investigation is structured to discover whether the property you’re considering purchasing is or could be contaminated with petroleum products or other hazardous substances.
The Phase 1 environmental audit is designed to identify all past uses of the property and to uncover formal evidence or personal knowledge, documented or anecdotal, of existing contamination. It includes these components:
Records research and review.
This includes tracking down and studying public records that may be filed with local, regional, state, federal or tribal agencies, looking in particular for documents that specifically mention storage or handling of hazardous substances at the site.
It also includes studying publicly-accessible or private databases, fire insurance maps, aerial maps or photos, reverse directories and so on to learn more about how the property has been used. Hazardous substances are most likely to be present if previous uses include manufacturing or other industrial activities or businesses such as automotive shops, gas stations, photo shops or dry cleaners that typically handle dangerous chemicals.
Talking with current or past landowners and tenants can shed additional light on the property’s history. You may even have first-hand knowledge about the property, or your professional background might lead you to believe contamination exists. Or maybe you’re suspicious because the seller’s asking price seems unusually affordable.
On-site visual inspection.
The Phase 1 environmental audit also involves an up-close look around the property, to inspect the land and any buildings on it. Your inspector will check out the neighboring property, too. They’re looking for evidence of spills as well as building materials-based problems such as asbestos or lead-based paint.
Surveys and tests.
To understand surface and subsurface geophysical conditions, it may be necessary to conduct some simple soil or ground water sampling or other tests. Your investigator is looking for underground storage tanks as well as evidence that contaminants may have migrated around the property or may have migrated to or from adjoining land.
After completing the audit, your investigator will provide you a written report of their findings as well as specific recommendations based on whether you property appears to be clean, has minor problems or has more severe issues which warrant further study.
The next step is up to you.