Written by Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA, Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc.
Environmental consultants sometimes struggle with reporting their Phase One Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) findings and conclusions, especially for properties with limited available data, or where the identified environmental issues are deemed to be of low to moderate concern.
Environmental consultants are often in search of ‘Better Conclusions’. When I refer to “better conclusions”, I am talking about rational and defensible conclusions that are presented clearly and designed to meet the report objectives (as defined by regulation and client needs) and not simply stating that “no concerns were identified and no further action is needed” (which most clients would prefer).
As environmental consultants, we understand each site and report is unique and the conclusions are dependent on the available data, as interpreted by a qualified professional. The suggestions offered are by no means comprehensive or all inclusive, but are meant to generate some thoughtful discussion when writing and reviewing Phase One ESA reports.
Follow the Regulation(s)
Depending on the locale and client requirements, you could be following one of several ESA guidelines. Make sure you have conducted your ESA in accordance with the applicable and/or client-requested format, and that the content and wording of your conclusions follows the suggested or mandatory requirements. For example, CSA Z-768-01 requires ESA Conclusions to state either no evidence, or evidence of actual and/or potential contamination has been revealed.
Ontario Regulation 153/04, as amended for filing a Record of Site Condition requires, among other things, that the assessor’s conclusions specifically state whether the RSC can be filed on the basis of the Phase One alone; and whether a Phase Two ESA is required to file the RSC. Failure to include the mandatory statements with the specified wording can result in denial of the RSC application.
If the report is to be compliant with ASTM E1527-13, the conclusions must summarize all recognized environmental conditions; provide one of the ASTM-prescribed concluding statements; and include statements certifying that an Environmental Professional (EP) has conducted All Appropriate Inquires (AAI). The assessor should always be familiar with the most current ESA standards, and ensure that that the format they utilize is applicable to the Site and meets all regulatory and stakeholder objectives.
Know Your Client…. And Other Stakeholders
Phase One ESAs are conducted for a variety of reasons including transactional due diligence, mortgage financing, regulatory requirements or private/internal planning needs. The types and objectives of clients can also vary from Site owners to property buyers, sellers, or managers. Often other third parties such as banks, municipalities, government agencies or environmental regulators can have a significant impact on the content and acceptability of the report conclusions.
As an assessor you need to know in advance all the involved stakeholders, especially those that will require and expect reliance on your report in their decision making process. Different clients can tolerate varying degrees of environmental risk.
For example, a client that has owned and operated an industrial facility since first developed use, and has no plans to sell, redevelop or obtain bank financing may be comfortable with the simple identification of potential environmental concerns and decide not to undertake any further confirmatory investigations.
However, a bank financing a purchase of the same industrial property may have a lower risk tolerance, and will likely require a better understanding of the environmental issues, including Phase One ESA conclusions that clearly state whether or not a Phase Two ESA is recommended by the assessor.
To produce a valid report that assists the stakeholders in their decision making, the assessor must also know all stakeholder objectives, and understand their respective risk tolerance and required level of comfort.
About the Author
Bill Leedham 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. You can contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.