Is a mold inspection included in a Phase I ESA?

Written By: Dennis Ruhlin | Mar 15, 2017

Time to Read 6 Minutes

Learn if mold inspections are part of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

When it comes to Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, many of our customers have a lot of questions. Since this process is likely new to many, it's understandable that so many folks have so many questions about the process, the report, and what's really happening when they purchase a Phase I ESA. One of the most common questions we get is "will a mold inspection be included in my Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?"

This is a great question, since anyone who's looking at a Phase I is likely also considering other forms of environmental due diligence, such as mold, lead or asbestos inspections.

Fortunately, when we break down the process with our customers, it's easier to understand than you'd imagine. Unlike other consultants who are vague, or over promise and under deliver, we know that educating you up front about the intricacies of a Phase I ESA is the best way to ensure a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Mold & Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

Mold is not within the scope of a Phase I ESA.

Simply put, mold is not within the scope of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment. But what does that actually mean?

Let's use an analogy we should all be able to get. Imagine you're going to get your car worked on, and you need an oil change. That's it, just an oil change. You take your car in, and you get your oil changed, and the mechanic might say something like 'good to go' or 'we found some metal shavings in your oil, you might have a problem'. They're performing a job, and reporting back to you how it went.

The "scope" of that service was the oil change, that's it. The findings of this service were then communicated at the end, and that's it. In a very basic manner, that's kind of how it works with a Phase I.

Now, if you went in and said you want an oil change, and asked if they check the tires with that, your mechanic would look at you like you have two heads. No, only an oil change is included within the scope of the "oil change" service. If you want an additional service (i.e., an item not within the scope of an oil change, or a non-scope item), you would pay extra for that.

Phase I's work the same way. The scope of a Phase I ESA is strictly defined by ASTM standards. These standards say what is, and what is not, included within the scope of a Phase I ESA. These five items are considered scope items under ASTM standards:

  • Thorough site reconnaissance
  • A review of records from various sources
  • Historical research of the subject property
  • Interviews with site representatives, buyers, sellers, etc.
  • The actual Phase I report itself

And that's it! Anything above and beyond those five things is considered non-scope, and are not included in a Phase I ESA. These may be things such as:

  • Mold, lead, or asbestos inspections & testing
  • Soil or water sampling & testing
  • Radon sampling & testing
  • Wetlands delineations & inspections
  • Land use or zoning issues
  • Environmental regulatory compliance
  • Recommendations

If any of these items are included within a Phase I ESA, then the report is no longer strictly within the scope of the ASTM standards. While this may not seem like a big deal, this could actually throw the report into question, thereby jeopardizing the liability protection the Phase I ESA offers, should it ever be taken to court for any reason. You don't want that.

Also, that last one really throws readers for a loop, but recommendations are not explicitly required in a Phase I. Understand this clearly - the sole purpose of a Phase I is to identify recognized environmental conditions (RECs), that's it. It's not to recommend you collect water samples or remediate a piece of property. It's just to look for RECs on a subject property. If you aren't sure what I'm referring to, I encourage you to check out What are RECs in a Phase I ESA?

Mold & Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

What scope items does a Phase I ESA look for?

In order to understand what you're getting, you really need to know what a Phase I ESA covers.

As I said above, a Phase I is defined by the ASTM standards, which are explicit!

What they basically say is that your Phase I Environmental Site Assessment should follow AAI (All Appropriate Inquiry) standards, which have been written out by ASTM, and which have been approved by USEPA as being the benchmark for providing a certain level of liability protection in the event that the property you acquire later is found to be contaminated by petroleum products or hazardous substances released to the environment.

That's it. Just petroleum products or hazardous substances. And, those hazardous substances are explicitly defined as hazardous substances as identified by various environmental acts, such as the Clean Water Act. Meaning, something like mold isn't included.

Can mold inspection be included with a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?

Does that mean that a mold inspection, or lead inspection, or anything can't be included?

No, of course you can get extra services at the same time. But, like asking the mechanic to check your brakes while changing the oil, you should expect to pay more for these additional services.

If you want mold to be investigated during the same time as a Phase I, you should request it from the environmental professional you've hired. Since it's a non-scope item, don't assume it will just 'be provided' by default (or for free).

If you were to get in touch with us regarding a Phase I, we would ask you about "non-scope items" you may be interested in before you hire us for a Phase I ESA, but it's up to you to ask us to investigate for anything above and beyond the scope of a Phase I.

Now certainly, if you failed to ask us, and during our Phase I ESA reconnaissance, we entered into a structure with heavy mold presence obvious, we're going to notify you immediately, but without your say-so, we're not going any further with that issue, nor are we putting it into our Phase I ESA report.

Why? Because it's not in the scope, not of the Phase I ESA we're doing, nor in our contracted scope of services. 

So, bottom line is this. You want mold, you need to ask for mold. Because if you just ask for a Phase I ESA, you're not going to get mold or any other non-scope item.

To learn more about Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, click here to contact us or give us a shout at 609-693-8301.


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