The following are NOT RECs, although some consultants identify these as RECs to recommend Phase 2 investigations.

The current or historical presence of hazardous materials at a Property. This is NOT a REC in the absence of evidence of a leak or spill.

The existence of a spill is NOT a REC unless it is documented that it could impact subsurface soil or groundwater. Minor spills are NOT RECs.

Bad housekeeping issues alone are NOT RECs in the absence of proper justification that the leak would (SIGNIFICANTLY) threaten human health or the environment.

Problems with non-compliance regarding hazardous materials that require correction are NOT RECs that require Phase 2 investigation.

The bottom line is the Environmental Professional must take responsibility to properly evaluate the findings from an ESA to properly document what is and what is not a REC. The users of Phase 1 reports should DEMAND proper justification for Phase 2 recommendations.

*Harm from poorly justified Phase 2 project. It may:

  1. not provide scientifically defensible data that properly clears the Property of contamination
  2. find minor or even de minimis conditions that are improperly interpreted as significant contamination
  3. put the owner on the regulatory agency hook for contamination
    since the owner must report ANY release of chemicals within 30 days.

The main purpose of a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is to discover recognized environmental conditions (RECs). RECs require some additional investigation that MAY OR MAY NOT include Phase 2 subsurface investigation.

The ASTM Standard (E1527, latest version dated 2013) defines a REC as the presence of likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on a property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or a material threat of a release of any hazardous substances or petroleum products into structures on the property or into the ground, ground water, or surface water of the property.

Some environmental consultants assume that ALL Properties are contaminated unless you can prove otherwise. This idea negates the very purpose and scope of the ESA process.

The definition of a REC is complicated, so complicated and subject to opinion that even experienced environmental professionals differ as to its meaning. However, the environmental professional must make a judgement that could lead to un-necessary or unjustified, Phase 2 recommendations that are costly and potentially harmful*.

The following is a list of questions that should be asked when evaluating a leak:

  • Do you observe a chemical leak from the site inspection or identify a leak from historical records?
  • Has the leak affected buildings on the Property or entered ground water or surface water on the Property?
  • Would this leak constitute a de minimis condition that would likely not present a threat to human health or the environment? Even if there is a leak is it SIGNIFICANT or is it just poor housekeeping that can be easily corrected)?
  • If the leak was brought to the attention of appropriate governmental agencies, would the agency open the case as a leak site?

Some environmental consultants want to consider ANY leak or potential leak to be a significant leak that requires Phase 2 investigation.