A new Phase I Environmental Site Assessment standard has been issued by ASTM International, the entity which publishes technical standards and guidance for a variety of testing and analysis methods. Announced November 2, 2021, this new standard modifies the way environmental due diligence is conducted. The EPA is reviewing the new Phase I standard for CERCLA/AAI compliance so that the new standard can be used to obtain various Superfund liability protections. The ASTM E1527-21 Phase I standard will likely become AAI complaint within a year.
Why is the ASTM being updated?
The standard is required by ASTM to be updated every eight years to remain current. Updates are made by the ASTM subcommittee for environmental assessment to improve key components of the standard and keep it in line with good commercial and customary practice.
The new ASTM E1527-21 contains changes aimed at clarifying and solidifying the existing standard. There are a few that will have a significant impact on the application of the standard. Here’s what you need to know:
- Consistency in determining RECs
If you have been involved in the preparation of a Phase I ESA Report, you know one of the biggest challenges can be properly identifying and classifying Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs), Historical Recognized Environmental Conditions (HRECs), and Controlled Recognized Environmental Conditions (CRECs). The new standard provides revised definitions for RECs, HRECs, and CRECs which will improve consistency in determining which of these terms to apply when conducting Phase I ESAs. Key updates to these definitions include:
- Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) – The revised definition includes the likely presence of hazardous substances or petroleum which includes a definition for likely that allows for the Environmental Professional’s (EP’s) experience to be used in a REC determination
- Controlled Recognized Environmental Condition (CREC) – A revised definition that refers to a REC affecting the subject property that has been addressed to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory authority with hazardous substances or petroleum products allowed to remain in place subject to the implementation of required controls.
- Historical Recognized Environmental Condition (HREC) – A reworded definition that refers to a previous release of hazardous substances or petroleum products affecting the subject property that has been addressed to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory authority and meeting unrestricted use criteria established by a regulatory authority, without subjecting the property to any required controls.
- New Focus on Identifying Significant Data Gaps (SDGs)
- A data gap may be encountered through a lack of or inability to obtain information required under the standard despite good faith efforts by the environmental professional to gather it. The new standard requires SDGs to be more clearly identified when encountered and a discussion about what additional information would be required to resolve the SDG and discussion of these data gaps in the executive summary for increased transparency.
- Continued Viability and Critical Dates
- A Phase I ESA is valid for 180 days and may be updated within one year. The viability date of the report is calculated from several critical components that include interviews, government records, visual inspection/site reconnaissance, and environmental lien searches. The new standard requires these critical dates and the report viability date to be included within the report.
- Consistency and Clarification of the Historical Research Process
- The proposed changes outline historical sources that shall be researched as part of the Phase I ESA process. The new standard emphasizes the need to identify the specific historical uses of the subject property vs. generally classifying the use of the property as commercial, industrial, etc. The new standard also requires the historical research for the adjoining properties to be commensurate with the level needed for the subject property and/or require environmental professionals to address potential gaps in the historical uses of certain adjoining properties.
- Site Reconnaissance
- List of features to be observed and reported has been expanded. The EP must document that these features were or were not present, and they should be asked about during interviews.
- Heightened Awareness for Emerging Contaminants
- While a specific reference to PFAS contamination is not included in the new standard, Emerging Contaminants have been included under the non-scope items list. While this addition is a non-scope issue, some states already classify certain PFAS as “hazardous substances”. Furthermore, PFAS legislation is an EPA priority and the best way to protect an investment in the long-term is to see that adequate PFAS considerations are taking place now. This is a sign to anyone involved in the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment process that they should consider requiring a PFAS assessment as part of their process.
What are the benefits of the new update?
Overall these changes will provide a stronger deliverable/report in the industry by improving consistency and findings during the Phase I ESA process. The new focus on clearly stating Significant Data Gaps (SDGs) will help point out the potential unknowns when preparing a report while revised and new definitions will promote greater consistency in REC, HREC, and CREC determinations. The new standard should provide better quality and result in reduced risk for the owner.
Will this affect the timeframe or cost to complete a Phase I?
While there is a short learning curve, we do not anticipate significant impact on price or schedule in most instances. However, the changes to the historical resources process could raise the level of effort necessary for properties in urban and highly developed locations.
What should we do while the changes are pending EPA approval?
ECS has modified our Phase I ESAs to meet these new requirements. The EPA approval process may take up to 6 to 12 months; in the meantime, until the forthcoming ASTM 1527-21 standard is AAI compliant, ensure your reports are compliant with and address both old and new standards to minimize risk and help qualify for Superfund liability protections.