Everything You Need To Know About Getting An Environmental Site Assessment

Have you recently purchased or inherited a business or property? Getting an environmental site assessment (ESA) is an essential part of responsibility for owning land. It assures the safety of your employees, the surrounding environment, yourself and your business. It may sound nerve wrecking to get an ESA, it can even feel like a bother. However, in the long run, you are better off getting it ASAP. If something goes wrong down the line you’d ultimately be responsible. There are three phases when it comes to ESA, and most of the time you won’t need to go past Phase I ESA. Still feeling a little hesitant about going through the process? Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds. In this blog, we are going to take you through the whole process of Phase I, II and III ESA to put you at ease.


Why should I get an ESA?


When you acquire a new property you’re not only putting your name on it, you are taking responsibility for every aspect of that property. If you don’t get an ESA and something goes wrong down the line then, to say the least, it doesn’t look good that the environmental risk was never looked at. You may even be liable for anything that went wrong. Getting an ESA is protecting yourself, your employees and the surrounding environment. So, yes, you should absolutely get an ESA.


You especially need to get an assessment if your business has these kinds of wastes, materials and by-products


  • Emissions that are dangerous to the surrounding fauna and flora and air pollution
  • Hazardous chemicals like acetic acid, sodium hydroxide and photographic fixer
  • Hazardous waste or large amounts of waste that are stored before treatment like bio-waste, drain cleaners, oil paint, motor oil, antifreeze, fuel, poisons, pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides and fluorescent lamps


Phase I


The first phase of ESA is also referred to as a preliminary site investigation. This process is to determine what kind of contaminants the site may have. They will also see if there is any risk of potential contamination. The end result will be a report that will determine if you need to move onto Phase II ESA. Phase I ESA includes:

History review

Part of Phase I ESA is going through the history of the site and any records related to it. This gives the assessor an idea of what to expect from the site and if going onto Phase II is necessary. The kinds of things they will look at are:

  • Historical Aerial Photographs
  • Reverse Street Directories
  • Building Permits
  • Planning Records
  • Topographical Maps
  • Fire Department Information
  • Water Department Information
  • Tax Documents
  • Title Information


Site visit

Phase I ESA usually includes a site visit, which is usually not overly invasive or disruptive. An inspector will come to your property and take a look around. It is to determine what kind of environment the site is on and what the potential pollution damage is. They will inspect the hazardous materials, waste or anything else that could have an unhealthy impact and then catalogue them. Based on what is on the site, they can determine what kind of pollution they should be looking for. The surrounding areas may also be inspected for signs and traces of contamination.




If necessary, more information may be needed to get a full overview of the site history. So previous owners, previous residents or local government might need to be contacted so an interview. This might be needed if records are unclear, unavailable or that is something there that needs to be further investigated. In other words they are simply bridging in gaps in the records that have been reviewed.


Phase II


If Phase I ESA determines that there is a possibility of contamination then you’ll need a Phase II ESA. This phase, also known as the intrusive phase, involves testing for the suspected contaminants. The major things to expect in this phase are:


As mentioned above, the main purpose of Phase II ESA is to test for suspected contaminants. This includes collecting samples and doing laboratory tests. Depending on the result you might need to undergo remediation to clean up contamination. Some examples of contaminants that will be tested are:


  • Surface soil and water samples
  • Mold, asbestos and lead sampling
  • Soil borings
  • Drum sampling
  • Dry well sampling
  • Floor drain sampling
  • Catch basin sampling
  • Transformer or capacitor sampling
  • Geophysical testing
  • Underground storage tank testing


Groundwater monitoring well


If there where concerns for groundwater pollution flagged in Phase I ESA then a groundwater monitoring well will need to installed. This well is to get groundwater samples for testing if that was flagged in Phase I ESA. It works by allowing groundwater to come to the surface so samples can be taken. If there are concerns that there are contaminations on different depths then multiple groundwater monitoring wells might need to be installed.


Taking action if anything is found


If something harmful is found on the site then you need to take action immediately in order to manage the contamination. Appropriate action will depend on what your contamination is. For example, with ground water pollution you may need to install a special underground tank to pump the water out and isolate the chemicals and pollutants. If there is soil pollution it will need to undergo treatment.

Before moving onto Phase III ESA remediation of the pollution found on the site needs to occur.


Phase III


So once you’ve identified potential risks in Phase I ESA, tested for them in Phase II ESA and taken action for any contaminations found, then it is time to move onto Phase III ESA.


Phase III ESA is only necessary if contaminants were found during Phase II ESA and clean up was necessary. This process is to determine the overall scope and impact of the pollution and how well it has been cleaned up. It is also to test to see if the site is up to environmental and safety regulations. The main things to expect are:




Just like in Phase II ESA, samples will need to be taken once more and tested. These samples will be compared to data and previous samples to determine the process. Here they will also see if soil, water, air, groundwater etc. are at safe levels. Depending on what they found in Phase II ESA they will only be looking at the contaminations that they found.


To refresh your memory the things that they will test are:

  • Surface soil and water samples
  • Mold, asbestos and lead sampling
  • Soil borings
  • Drum sampling
  • Dry well sampling
  • Floor drain sampling
  • Catch basin sampling
  • Transformer or capacitor sampling
  • Geophysical testing
  • Underground storage tank testing



Phase III ESA is also an opportunity to create a Remedial Action Plan to help you eliminate pollution from your site. Getting a plan at this phase means your site isn’t safe yet and you will need to invest in getting your site up to regulation.

Keeping everything up to code


Then it comes to avoiding fines, a lengthy remediation and going past Phase II ESA, the best cure is prevention. The best way to do this is to have regular inspections and make sure everything is up to code. Familiarise yourself with your legal responsibilities to the environment and create a plan to help you and your employees stay up to code.

No matter how big your business is, your business will have some kind of impact on the environment. For every kind of waste, there are rules to help you minimise your footprint. If you’re not sure what legal responsibilities are, take a moment to go through this checklist.

  • Your business is not polluting and not harming people
  • Comply with safety codes and have precautions to prevent industrial accidents, spillage and anything else from harming the surrounding area.
  • Do you have all the permits, codes and permissions you need from the Environment Protection Authority
  • If your business is producing emissions then you need to brush up on legislation. Make sure your business is unnecessarily damaging air quality by producing too much or releasing ozone depleting substances
  • In regards to storing waste you need to make sure you are storing it safely and according to code. Certain kinds of hazardous waste requires treatment before you can throw it away.
  • Make sure you are recycling properly. Your cardboard, paper, plastics, metals, glass materials need to be sorted into the correct bins.
  • Anything that could disturb or annoy nearby residents needs to be monitored. This includes noise pollution, dust, smells or anything else that could be considered a statutory nuisance
  • If you need to flush chemicals into the sewerage system you need to get in contact with the correct authority to make sure everything is up to code


While getting an ESA isn’t required, you are putting yourself and others at risk by not getting one. Even if nothing is found, then it is worthwhile to know that your property is safe and you are protected. Are you ready to have your new site tested? Alpha Environmental offers friendly and stress-free Phase 1, 2 & 3 Environmental Site Assessment. We aim to give you practical solutions and we will work with you to understand the environmental condition of your site. Call us now on 1300 039 181 for a free quote.