Emerging contaminants of concern in your Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

There is an updated standard for conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), courtesy of ASTM International. The revised standard, known as ASTM E-1527-21, includes directions for addressing emerging contaminants in ESAs. Municipalities and developers conducting due diligence for contaminated land remediation projects should be aware of the new standard, which indicates how state and federal guidelines will evolve. Below, we discuss emerging contaminants of concern, including per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and how environmental consultants can help you incorporate the new standard into your Phase I ESA.

What are emerging contaminants of concern?

Emerging contaminants of concern, also known as Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs), are chemicals not covered by federal regulation but have the potential to cause adverse effects on human health and the environment. One such contaminant, PFAS, is a class of long-lasting chemicals that degrade slowly and are persistent in the environment. Low levels can be found in water, air, soil, a variety of food products and even in human and animal blood. The widespread use of PFAS has been linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. To protect the environment and safeguard public health from PFAS contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is committed to introducing new policies and taking concrete actions to restrict exposure to these chemicals.

The new ASTM E-1527-21 standard is a step toward preventing PFAS contamination in the U.S. Focusing on PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), the revised ASTM standard provides more robust guidance about the extent of research needed for environmental due diligence in commercial real estate transactions

The primary takeaways of the updated ASTM standard and how it addresses the presence of emerging contaminants of concern in a Phase I ESA are:

  • When concerned parties are conducting due diligence for land transactions, the scope of work should satisfy the All Appropriate Enquiries (AAI) requirements, including information about the property's current and past use, for evidence of the release of hazardous substances or petroleum products.
  • The new ASTM standard does not yet identify PFAS as hazardous substances because they are not regulated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLA). However, the EPA's PFAS Strategic Roadmap indicates plans to class PFAS as hazardous substances in Summer 2023.
  • PFAS are classified under the category of non-scope items, similar to lead paint, asbestos, mold and radon. So, developers and municipalities involved in redevelopment projects need to specifically request PFAS assessment if they want it covered in their Phase I ESA to identify the associated liabilities and business risks.

Emerging contaminants of concern have the potential to turn into environmental liabilities once new regulatory standards are adopted. In states that have already adopted PFAS regulations, municipalities and developers must conduct Phase I ESAs with the updated ASTM standard to make informed decisions about redevelopment projects.

ASTM-compliant investigations can help assess the environmental risks and the associated costs that affect return on investment, property value and other key aspects of a commercial real estate transaction.

Complying with new ASTM standards

While conducting Phase I ESA, there are three broad options for implementing the new ASTM standard:

  1. Continue citing the ASTM E-1527-13 standard until the EPA approves the updated standard.
  2. Use and cite the updated ASTM E-1527-21 standard now.
  3. Cite the ASTM E-1527-13 standard and include procedures prescribed by the updated standard.

Municipalities and developers involved in commercial real estate transactions often struggle to determine the best way to implement ASTM standards in a Phase I ESA. Hiring professionals is a cost-effective way to ensure you do your due diligence to comply with regulatory standards and anticipate forthcoming compliance demands.

At Fehr Graham, our environmental consultants know industry standards and have helped municipalities and developers on redevelopment projects since the 1970s. We have helped municipalities redevelop brownfields and improve quality of life in the communities where our clients live and work. With highly customized ESAs, we ensure you have data to make informed decisions on land transactions.

Fehr Graham's dedicated team of passionate engineers, scientists and other professionals are committed to improving the environment and communities across the U.S. To learn more about how we can help you take the best course of action on emerging contaminants of concern, contact us or give us a call at 920.453.0700