ASTM Revises Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Standard

After years of debate, the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) approved and published its revised standard practice for performing Phase I Environmental Site Assessments in November 2013 (E1527-13).  ASTM originally codified the Phase I standard in 1993, and this is the first revision to the industry-accepted environmental standard since 2005, when it underwent significant changes to comply with the federal “All Appropriate Inquiry” (AAI) rule.

Much debate on the new standard was centered on the evaluation of “vapor” migration and the extent to which this issue should be evaluated as part of a baseline Phase I study.  Potential vapor intrusion, which could result at sites where contamination has been left in-place — even under the approval of a state regulatory agency, has been a hot topic in the environmental consulting industry for the last several years.  In the late 2000s ASTM published a tiered guide for performing vapor encroachment screening (E2600-00), and last year the Illinois EPA promulgated standards for this specific potential exposure pathway.  Although indoor air quality has traditionally been defined as a “non-scope” consideration, for optional inclusion with the Phase I, the revised standard requires that one performing assessments evaluate the potential migration of “vapor in the subsurface” when identifying recognized environmental conditions (i.e., potential soil and groundwater contaminant concerns).  The new Phase I standard explicitly states, however, that application of the E2600-10 standard is not a required component of the environmental assessment process to achieve AAI.

ASTM also modified important terminology as part of the revised standard.  This is the public’s first introduction to the term “controlled recognized environmental condition,” or CREC.  The CREC classification is intended to be used for sites with a history of subsurface contaminant issues, where a No Further Remediation or Action (NFR/NFA) letter has been issued by a state regulatory agency but with certain engineering or institutional controls, such as an engineered barrier requirement or industrial/commercial land-use limitation.  In the past, most consultants identified these issues as “historical” recognized environmental conditions, or HRECs, but the new standard has clarified that this term is only to be used when none of the aforementioned controls are associated with site closure.  The definition of a recognized environmental condition (REC) was modified slightly as well, in order to more closely link it with terminology used in the Superfund act.

Furthermore, the new Phase I standard has an added regulatory file review component.  In short, it mandates that the consultant “should” obtain and review regulatory files and records associated with environmental listings (e.g., leaking UST [LUST], RCRIS and CERCLIS) for the subject property or adjoining sites.  The practicality of this component, however, is questionable. To illustrate, the typical Phase I User demands report delivery within three weeks, but it often takes in excess of 30 days to obtain state or federal EPA records through the Freedom of Information Act request process.

In closing, the new Phase I standard is upon us, and consultants are revising their protocols and procedures in order to incorporate its various elements and changes.  Many Phase I users have in turn revised their internal policies, some going beyond and requiring a more formal vapor encroachment screening be conducted by their consultants.  Most industry experts expect some pricing adjustments, particularly when extensive regulatory file review activities become required.  As with the last changes, however, performing Phase I’s to E1527-13 is quickly becoming business as usual (note: users beware of consultants offering discounted Phase I’s performed to an obsolete standard!).

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