Everything You Need to Know About Environmental Site Assessments

Environmental site assessments (ESA) are one of the most common services our consultants are called upon to perform. These assessments play a crucial role in identifying the contamination levels of a particular site and developing an effective management solution. They are split up into three phases, with each phase handling a different set of tasks. In this article, we look at the ins and outs of an ESA and why they’re so important.

What are they?

An Environmental Site Assessment is a study of the past and present activities on a site to determine the likelihood of contamination and what effects that contamination might have on both humans and the environment. It is conducted by a trained environmental consultant and can take from anywhere between a few weeks to a few years – depending on how many phases are conducted and how long each phase takes. Contamination can include things like dangerous chemicals, groundwater contamination, soil quality & contamination and surface water quality.

What do they encompass?

The three different phases that ESA’s are split up into are as follows:

Phase I – Known as a preliminary environmental site assessment, phase I is often referred to as a ‘desktop study’ where all the currently available site information is reviewed to determine whether or not contamination is likely. The information which is commonly reviewed in this phase include the site history, the environmental setting, the previous and current activities on the site, the site drainage and what the land in the immediate locality of the site is used for. The presence of underground storage tanks, surface staining, and chemical stores is also looked into. 

All forms of documentation related to the site are consulted, including tax records, fire and water department information, building permits, planning information and other similar documentation and records. After these have been scrutinised, it is up to the environmental professional to determine whether or not there is any cause to believe that contamination could be present on the site. 

Records and documentation for adjacent buildings or sites are also investigated for the same reason. If they believe that it is a possibility, then they’ll have to provide evidence on what they’ve based their theory on. The next step is to – if the client wishes to move forward – have a phase II ESA administered.

Phase II – Known as a detailed environmental site assessment, phase II involves actively testing for the presence of contaminants and determining both their concentration and distribution. Testing during this phase could include soil and groundwater assessments, drum sampling, transformer or capacitor sampling as well as sampling from things like mould, asbestos and lead. 

The point of a phase II assessment is to prove whether or not the suspicions and theory that was first thought up during the first phase are true or not. If there the tests come back negative and there are no signs of contamination, then the ESA ends. However, if contamination is confirmed on the site, then the third and final ESA phase is recommended.

Phase III – The final phase of an ESA encompasses the remediation of a site based on the evidence uncovered in the previous two phases. A phase III site assessment may include further testing, sampling and monitoring to determine what types of remediation are required, feasibility studies for remediation, and an assessment of the available clean-up methods, logistics and costs of remediation. 

The remediation process itself can take anywhere between a single day to years – depending on the issue. Some of the more advanced problems require solutions such as chemical oxidation or bioremediation. Whereas other problems may just need a simple excavation. Some of the more complex issues may take longer to resolve, but it’s still a better option than risking your workers’ health and safety by allowing them to work in a contaminated site. 

Who sets the guidelines for these assessments?

An ESA must conform with Victorian state legislation, policies, Australian Standards and EPA guidelines. Guidelines for the ESA are set out by EPA Victoria. Only auditors appointed under section 53S of the Environmental Protection Act 1970 are qualified to perform environmental audits and issue certificates or statements.

When are they required?

An environmental site assessment is required in instances where the planning scheme on land which was previously a storage site for hazardous chemicals or industrial activities, is set to be amended to enable the construction of residences, a preschool, a primary school or a childcare centre.

A planning authority can also request an audit to confirm the environmental condition of a site is suitable for its proposed use. The site owner or occupier can also request an audit as part of the commercial due diligence processes. Remember, just because you get a phase I assessment, does not necessarily mean you require a phase II & III. 

Whether the site you’re having assessed requires further ESA’s is up to the findings of phase I and whether or not the consultant undergoing the assessment deems it necessary based on his findings – in which they must have solid reasoning behind thinking a phase II ESA is required.

Are you in need of an environmental site assessment?

The experienced environmental consultants in the Alpha Environmental team are capable of performing phase I, II and III environmental site assessment services. Our highly passionate and trained consultants are also experienced in a variety of other environmental services such as groundwater and asbestos testing and management. 

If you would like to get in touch with us regarding an environmental site assessment, then please give us a call on 1300 039 181. Alternatively, you can also get in touch with us by filling out the enquiry form on our website.