What Is A Site Assessment

We live in a time of ever increasing attention and respect for the natural environment around us. Associated with this increased awareness has been the evolution of strict environmental laws and enforcement. An environmental site assessment serves to evaluate a given property for any potential release, or threat of release, of oil and/or hazardous materials at the site. When performed by a qualified firm, a proper environmental site assessment can provide a property owner with the knowledge to act in accordance with the applicable laws and thereby reduce what are often complex situations to more manageable ones.

Individuals involved with real estate have to be aware of possible litigation involving property with damage to surficial and subsurface soils as well as ground water. These conditions may have been caused by an underground tank leak or other sources. These sources commonly include poorly stored barrels, untreated wastewater, or improperly stored or disposed of wastes, all of which can produce a health threat. Clean up cost, if necessary, may add up to amounts exceeding the property’s worth. A site assessment performed by those who have had experience with state and municipal agencies, as well as experience with a myriad of environmental problems at various properties, can help cope with or discover these liabilities.

Each of the following parties have a special interest in how a property is handled: the sellers, buyers, lenders, investors, and consultants. Environmental risks can be greatly reduced with the proper approach from a professional consulting firm. The desired approach is to knowledgeably identify risks and potential harm to the subject site. Proper assessments should include a history of the site and past businesses operating on the site. This history should include identification of past and present owners, maps, plans, deeds, and review of products or materials which were manufactured or disposed of in the past, and a permit history to ascertain what activities were actually licensed. This permit review must cover violation notices and enforcement orders issued by environmental agencies, including the local health department, as well as the State Authorities and the EPA.

Property with underground storage tanks and surface stored pollutants pose a very real problem. These sources have the potential to contaminate the site on which they are stored as well as other properties nearby the site. This situation can incur serious litigation which may involve parties other than just the present owners.

Since the site report may be used to assess any likely financial exposure, the text of an investigation should explore the impacts of hazardous materials which could travel off-site. To avoid any misunderstanding regarding development potential for a property, local laws and zoning controls should be covered in the report. Reviews at state and local agencies are a useful tool for discovering what surrounding usages may be a threat to the site in question and what action, if any, has been taken in light of a problem on a property nearby to the site in question. If a problem does arise on a given site, and state agencies are notified and become involved, then further assessment will be required.

The proper assessment is not a “walkover survey.” It should be an in-depth discovery process involving professionals with backgrounds in civil engineering, geology, hydrogeology, and geotechnology who together provide a highly qualified body to plan and execute the proper steps necessary to identify any release or threat of release of hazardous substances.

Environmental risks are encountered and taken; however, controls can be implemented. In light of insurance companies decreasing, against costly problems, a proper site assessment provides an avenue to reduce the risks taken. This service should include informing the parties concerned as to the condition of the site, whether favorable or unfavorable, and what may be involved in order to correct an adverse situation.

The site assessment stands as the most important prerequisite to many commercial land transactions, a valuable source of information, and a helpful tool to lessen and control legal, financial, and environmental risks. Until environmental law provides for uniform skills and certification, it remains up to the client to choose a firm with a reputation for equitable and competent assessments of properties and their potential for release of oil or hazardous materials.