USEPA Approves New Phase I Standard

Phase I ESA Site Inspection

Over a year since its publishing, the USEPA has finally formally recognized the most recent standard for conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) that was issued in late 2021 by ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing & Materials [ASTM]). As of February 2023, the federal EPA has approved the latest ASTM guidelines as satisfying “All Appropriate Inquiry” (AAI) for potential Superfund liability. However, the USEPA has indicated Users of Phase I ESA reports may continue to use the last standard published in 2013 for AAI through February 2024.

As part of the updated guidelines, ASTM has provided further clarification of various definitions and components of the standard that were considered unclear and/or difficult to interpret under the prior standard. Additionally, greater emphasis has been placed on the consultant providing rationale for developing its findings and opinions. For instance, what is the environmental professional’s justification for determining whether an issue represents a “historical” or a “controlled” recognized environmental condition (HREC or CREC)? It is now also a requirement that “significant” data gaps, defined as those impacting the consultant’s ability to adequately evaluate whether a potential concern represents a REC (“recognized environmental condition”), be discussed in the Conclusions section of the Phase I ESA report. Further, the new ASTM standard mandates that a photographic log and site diagram be included in the Phase I ESA report.

Most Phase I ESA Users (i.e. our clients) will not notice a drastic difference in reporting under the latest standard, as competent environmental companies have typically been including many of the above elements under the prior guidelines. However, as discussed in our last newsletter, it is expected that the USEPA will formally designate certain PFAS compounds as a CERCLA hazardous substance at some point later in 2023 or 2024. Once this designation is adopted, consultants will be obligated to evaluate this emerging contaminant as part of a Phase I ESA. Until then, the new ASTM standard specifically states that “emerging contaminants” such as PFAS are defined as “Non-Scope Items” and are not required to be evaluated unless the User specifically requests them to be included. If so, and if a site has potential concerns related to PFAS compounds, they would be discussed and classified as “Business Environmental Risks”.

Pioneer Engineering & Environmental Services strives to stay abreast of changes in the regulatory scenery — and to keep its clients and partners informed of how they will affect them. If you have any questions about the newest Phase I ESA standard or feel we may be able to help you move your project forward, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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