Shopping for a Phase I Environmental Assessment: What’s the Difference Between an Expensive and Cheap Phase I?

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My wife continually catches me spending less - and getting less. I’m sure you’ve heard it, “you get what you pay for,” she tells me. Most of the time she’s right. it seems the less I know about what I’m buying, the more I base my choice on price.

My wife wonders, “you make such a big deal about your clients getting what they pay for.” 

Again, she’s right. When someone calls and asks, “I shopped around for a quote on a Phase I and the prices vary by quite a bit. Why should I pay more when my bank/lender doesn’t care who I use?” I have an answer. I trust that if they know about what they are buying, they’ll make the right choice for them - and get what they’re paying for.

First, according to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard for conducting a legally-sound Phase I, an Environmental Professional (EP) or person responsible under the EP can conduct a Phase I, as long as the EP possesses “sufficient education, training, and experience to assess the nature, history, and setting of the subject property, and have the ability to identify issues relevant to recognized environmental conditions in connection with the subject property.” So, all Phase I assessments, whether expensive or not, must be completed by an EP or person responsible under the EP.

So what creates a wide variety of pricing for a Phase I? An inexpensive Phase I is largely an automated report supplemented with ASTM essentials like a site visit, while a more expensive Phase I assessment provides the same, along with more in-depth professional interpretation, judgment and contact. How about an example?

I recently reviewed a typical “automated variety” Phase I for a friend. A bank he was working with had provided the report as part of potentially refinancing his property. As my friend had told me, the Phase I identified a recognized environmental condition (REC). Here are the findings:

  • The regulatory database report identified the subject property as a dry-cleaning facility from 1992 to 1998, and city directories indicated that the property was likely occupied by a dry-cleaning facility between 1939 to 2006.
  • Without a physical on-site assessment and current site specific soil and/or groundwater data for the subject property, it can’t be confirmed or denied if the soil and/or groundwater media have been negatively impacted by the historical hazardous material/waste generation from the dry cleaner's daily operations, which is considered a significant data gap and is viewed as a Potential Environmental Condition (PEC) at this time.

Translation: records tell us there was a dry-cleaning facility on the property, and you need to do testing in order to figure out if there was a spill (this is a Potential Environmental Concern).

When I met with my friend, he told me he knew there was a dry cleaning business at the property, but was under the impression that it was just a collection point. He saw no such information in the Phase I report.

“A regulatory database report, city directories and that’s it,” he said. “I can't find out what kind of dry cleaning operation was at the site.”

My friend got back to me about a week later. He told me he went to the county office and did a records search on his property. He found records that said the site was the location of an operating dry cleaner that used solvents, and he even had inspection records.

Here’s the point. The bank settled on a inexpensive Phase I because it provides barebones adherence to the ASTM Standard and serves its purpose. My friend needed more information to satisfy his needs - akin to buying a more expensive Phase I. His interaction with me, like talking with the provider of a more expensive Phase I, gave him the service he wanted.

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Before settling on a Phase I provider, spend some time to understand what your needs are. Maybe all you need is a barebones Phase I because your site has never been anything but a field in a residential neighborhood. Alternatively, your site may be in or adjacent to an industrial area and you want a more in-depth Phase I that includes contact with the EP.

We can help with any part of the process, from helping you identify your needs, to providing an in-depth Phase I and more. Give us a call at or click the link below for a free consultation.