Can I skip a Phase I and only get a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment?

Written By: Dennis Ruhlin | Jul 19, 2021

Time to Read 9 Minutes





Learn why going right into a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment, and skipping a Phase I ESA, is a bad idea.

One of the most common questions we get asked about the Phase I / Phase II process is the need for further investigation. What happens if my Phase I ESA finds something bad? Will we need a Phase II ESA? What happens if we find contamination?!

If the thought of going through the process, only to be told you'll need more follow-up work, makes you question the need for a Phase I in the first place, you're not alone. In fact, we're frequently asked about the possibility of skipping a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment all together, and just going right into Phase II work. Makes sense, right? Why pay for something that's only going to recommend spending more money. Why not skip the Phase I, save the cash, and go right into that Phase II ESA from the start?

We get it, and fully understand where you're coming from. Despite this line of rational thinking, it's not a good idea, for several reasons. Let's dive in, discuss why it's a bad idea, could be dangerous, and at the very least, is a waste of your money.

Getting a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment

Phase I & Phase II ESA Info

If you're here reading this, chances are pretty good you may have some additional questions about the Phase I/II ESA process. So, before we dive into learning about Phase II work, here's a couple of links to additional articles you may find useful.

Phase I Articles

Phase I vs Phase II Articles

Phase II Articles

Can I get a Phase II ESA right away?

The answer is yes, if you just want to get a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment right off the bat, and skip the Phase I, no one is stopping you. In fact, there are only a few examples of when you actually NEED to get a Phase I ESA (hint - it's usually because a bank or lender is making you get one). So, if you say forget it, I'm not buying a Phase I, and just want to get a Phase II ESA instead, you can do that.

The challenge becomes, who's going to perform that work for you? Sure, there are lots of firms out there that do Phase II work, from large, nationwide organizations, to local mom and pop companies, but will they just do a Phase II without a Phase I? From our experience (and we've been doing this since 1992) the answer is some will, but many reputable ones will not.

Is it a bad idea to only get a Phase II ESA?

The short answer is yes, it is a very bad idea to only get a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment for several reasons.

A Phase II ESA May Be Unnecessary

Just because YOU think you need a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment doesn't mean you may actually need one! There are so many reasons that a Phase II might not be needed that they're almost impossible to list. Here are the top three reasons why a Phase II ESA might not be needed, even though you're asking for one.

  • You may not be fully aware of the outcome or purpose of a Phase II ESA, and may incorrectly think you need one.
  • The piece of property may not have anything hinting at the fact that there's potential contamination on-site.
  • There may already be monitoring wells on-site that are actively monitored for groundwater/soil contamination.

The fact of the matter is not every Phase I ESA leads into a Phase II, despite what you may think or have heard.

A Phase II ESA Can Be Expensive

If you're looking to get a Phase II done on a largely vacant piece of property that's easily accessible, then getting soil or water samples may be easy and cheap. This is especially true if you only need a limited number of samples, are attempting to identify relatively benign hazardous substances, the samples are taken from shallow boreholes, and it's all done over a small geographic area.

Conversely, if you need a lot of samples taken, and are attempting to identify extremely hazardous substances, down deep boreholes, then your Phase II could balloon in price. Or, if you need to get samples from a hard-to-access area, such as in a basement or through developed areas (such as concrete foundations), then you might be spending an arm and a leg to get this Phase II ESA done.

Who can you determine how much a Phase II might cost? By getting a Phase I. Asking how much a Phase II might cost is like asking how much it costs to get a medical procedure done. Are you getting a hangnail removed or having a complex surgery involving highly skilled specialists? It all depends.

And, if it's not necessary, as we outlined above, then you wasted your money.

Skipping a Phase I May Limit Liability Protection

Remember, part of the reason you get a Phase I ESA is because it provides liability protection. By skipping the Phase I and going right into a Phase II, you could lose that liability protection altogether. When the cost of environmental clean-ups in the United States can range from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to well over a million. So, by skipping the $3,000 Phase II and getting a Phase II instead, you could be risking hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road. This is the definition of being penny foolish and pound wise.

Without a Phase I, a Phase II May Be Incomplete

A Phase I ESA is going to look at anything and everything relating to a piece of property, going back as far as there's history on that property. I've personally been involved on Phase I projects where there are over 100 years of records about properties! The point being, when a Phase I is conducted, the environmental professional is going to leave no stone unturned. We will dig into and examine any piece of information we can to determine if there is any chance of contamination at the property. It's like detective work.

Let's use that medical procedure analogy again to explain this point. Suppose you were having heartburn and wanted to start taking prescription medicine to treat it. No doctor would write you that script without first examining you, assessing the situation, and suggesting the best course of action based on the information received. There may be another aspect of your medical issue that may cause the doctor to recommend a different treatment, which may be more successful and provide you with better results.

Think of a Phase II in the same manner. Sure, getting a Phase II done on a piece of property because there was an underground fuel storage tank might make sense, but are you sure that the rest of the property doesn't have issues? Are you familiar with every aspect of the property, including past usage? How about any previous environmental issues, clean-ups, or even concerns on neighboring properties that may have migrated onto your property via groundwater. The point being, without a Phase I, you won't know the full story about the property, meaning any Phase II conducted will be based on the best guess without any supporting evidence.

Again in this instance, if the Phase II missed something because a Phase I wasn't conducted, and there was contamination found on-site eventually, you may be solely responsible for cleaning up that contamination because you didn't conduct the AAI process correctly. So again, you skimped out buying a Phase I to save a few thousand but ended up costing yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road.

So I should NEVER get a Phase II right away?

It's impossible to say don't ever go right into a Phase II because there are many, many instances surrounding Phase I/II ESA work where circumstances might be unique enough that going into a Phase II right out of the gate may be warranted. However, from our experience, these instances are few and far between. So I cannot say, that no one should ever get a Phase II right off the bat instead of getting a Phase I ESA first, but for the majority of people, properties, and projects, we recommend going through the steps in proper order by getting a Phase I ESA, then, if warranted, getting a Phase II ESA.

Need more info on Phase I Environmental Site Assessments?

If you're in the market for a Phase I ESA, or a Phase II, and finding yourself overwhelmed, you're not alone. Here at RMA, we’ve been actively involved in assisting organizations with environmental due diligence since we opened our doors back in 1992. We know the ins and outs of the environmental challenges commercial and industrial facilities can face here, especially during property and business transactions.

Our staff has been on-site at thousands of operations across the country, so when we say we've seen it all, we mean it. We've helped all types of facilities and organizations, from multinationals to small "mom & pop" businesses. No matter your size, industry, or location, we'd love to learn if and how we can assist you and your business. Even if we can't help your business, we’ll do our best to steer you in the right direction or recommend someone who can.

Feel free to contact us at info@rmagreen.com, click here to contact us, or give us a call anytime at 888-RMA-0230 to learn how we can help with your Phase I ESA needs.

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