Who you hire to do your environmental site assessments matters - SSCI Environmental

Since the passage of the Superfund Cleanup Acceleration Act of 1998, anyone interested in selling, buying or financing a commercial property is encouraged or required to have an environmental site assessment (ESA) performed to uncover evidence of environmental site contamination. To obtain Innocent Landowner status, the buyer must assure that the Phase I ESA meets the specific requirements  of ASTM E1527-13: Standard Practice for Environmental Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process. If there’s indication of contamination, a Phase II environmental investigation is used to determine the presence, or absence of, petroleum products or hazardous waste in the subsurface of the site.

Doing an assessment is a good idea, besides:  cleaning up a site can be costly, and site contamination is a possible liability for all parties — the buyers, sellers and lenders. The assessment lets a buyer know what he’s getting into.

And, who you hire to do the assessment is important.

For example, when a small city bought two tracts of land for construction of a new amateur athletic complex, the tracts were environmentally clean — supposedly. A Phase I ESA hadn’t cited any need to conduct subsurface investigations or further inquiry.  The property was purchased and development begun.

But when construction started, it became clear that the previous ESA had overlooked obvious past uses and contaminants. The construction crew found piping, appurtenances and evidence of stained soil.

The City turned to SSCI to help it re-assess the site and properly document the condition of the site. SSCI had already worked with other cities, as well as counties, municipal facilities, universities and schools, TxDOT, TxDPS and other agencies and companies.

SSCI did a visual site inspection, reviewed records, interviewed past owners and neighbors and took soil samples. SSCI’s Phase II ESA projects must be performed to comply with ASTM E1903-11 Standard Guide for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Process standard, in addition to each client’s specific needs.

SSCI found extensive evidence of historical oilfield activity. Sample results revealed significant concentrations of hydrocarbon-contaminated soils. Near-surface hydrocarbon contamination was found to be associated with former oil-field-related aboveground tank batteries and underground pipes.

Because SSCI was able to properly classify the waste as oilfield waste subject to Railroad Commission (RRC) of Texas rules that allow higher closure levels, the City was able to close the site to RRC requirements, saving tax payers time and money.

The City used the findings to develop a plan for remediation. Following TCEQ and RRC review and approval, the City accepted SSCI’s proposal for closure.

Contaminated soil was excavated and removed. Old pipelines associated with the prior oilfield development were also excavated and removed. A NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials) survey was performed to ensure that all underground pipes and surface soils were free of regulated quantities of NORM. The athletic complex was constructed as planned.

Unfortunately in this case, the City incurred unexpected expenses and delays because pre-purchase investigations lacked thoroughness. Innocent landowner status and smooth-moving projects start out with a proper ESA that will discover and gauge the extent of contamination, if any. For developers as well as government entities, that first step is essential to protecting their commercial investment, never mind their legal requirements.

Scope of Phase I ESA
  • General Site Inspection
  • Review of Site Records and Activities
  • Regulatory Records Research
  • Title and Historical Records Search
  • Facility / Site Inspection
  • Knowledgeable Individual Interviews
  • Geologic evaluation
Scope of Phase II ESA
  • Asbestos and Lead-Based Paint Surveys
  • Extended Records Review
  • Detailed Land Use Evaluation
  • On-Site Sampling and Analysis of Soil and Groundwater
  • Water and Building Materials Sampling
  • Operations Review