The Essential Phase I ESA Checklist

Blog header

Whenever you’re considering buying a piece of commercial property, it’s always a good idea to perform an environmental site assessment (ESA). An ESA should identify potential or pre-existing contamination of soil or groundwater known as recognized environmental conditions (RECs).

Why Do I Need a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?

Correctly performing an ESA will limit your liability to the Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), known as Superfund, in addition to state laws in some places.

An ESA must be conducted in accordance with the American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM E 1527) which also satisfies the EPA’s All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) requirements in order to qualify for environmental liability protection under Superfund.

The point of a Phase I ESA is to identify potential sources of contamination through documentation, interviews, and basic site observation. This will give you a strong foundation before moving on to a Phase II ESA, which includes more direct analysis and laboratory testing.

Historical Records Review

A thorough review of the historical records and documents of a property will point you toward potential RECs that may have existed for decades and are no longer observable from a basic site visit. Depending on the type of property and how long it’s been in commercial use, this can be an in-depth process covering multiple types of documents.

Historical records you may consider reviewing include:

  • City directories
  • Topographical maps
  • Historical aerial photographs
  • Environmental reports
  • Sanborn fire insurance maps
  • Reviews from regulatory agencies such as the EPA
  • Land titles
  • Zoning records
  • Property tax records

Site Visits

One of the most basic parts of a Phase I ESA is a personal inspection of the site. This will help you see if there are any issues that may not have been included in the documentation on the property. 

An experienced company or individual will know what to look for and how to identify potential issues when conducting the site visit. They can also take photographic evidence of what they find to ensure that it is thoroughly documented. 

The site visit should include:

  • An inspection of the interior and exterior of any buildings on the property.
  • An analysis of current and former commercial uses of the property, including where and how potentially hazardous materials were stored and disposed.
  • Potential sources of contamination from neighboring properties that may not have shown up in documentation about your property.


Another way to obtain valuable information about a site is to interview the people who have experience with it. They may be able to tell you about previous commercial uses of the site or previous reports including ESAs that might have been completed. 

People you may consider interviewing as part of your environmental site assessment process include current and former:

  • Property owners
  • Site or property managers
  • State and local government and agency officials
  • Occupants or neighboring occupants
  • Companies contracted for engineering or environmental assessments on the site

Phase I ESA Report

After the environmental due diligence is completed, you will have a report that shows the Phase I ESA requirements have been met. The professional team at Fleis & VandenBrink will prepare a report detailing the findings from the historical records, site visit, and interviews. Once it is completed, the report will guide your next steps as you move on to completing a Phase II ESA, if necessary. A Phase II ESA may include geophysical surveys, soil borings, soil and groundwater sampling, and laboratory analysis.

The report will include basic information, such as the property description, scope of work, and a summary of findings. It will also go into detail on gaps in the data and information available. The report will also give professional conclusions based on what was found while completing the Phase I ESA.

Fleis & VandenBrink’s Services

The staff at Fleis & VandenBrink has decades of experience in environmental site assessments for residential, commercial, and industrial projects. Over the years, our company has seen steady growth due to our expert staff, excellent services, and great client relationships. We provide a wide range of services in addition to environmental site assessments, including design, construction, and operation.

Make F&V Your Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Company

We provide high-quality and reliable Phase I ESA services in both Michigan and Indiana. Reach out to our team today to discuss what we can do for your project.