Key Elements of a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment

Earlier in the year, we provided you with a breakdown of what exactly occurs during Phase I environmental site assessments. Basically, a Phase I ESA involves a comprehensive look into the past and present activities of a site to determine the likelihood of contamination. If contamination is found to be present, then the potential impact that the contamination might have on the environment is then assessed. If it is determined that there is a likelihood of site contamination, then a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment is undertaken. This is known as an ‘intrusive’ investigation which involves sampling and testing to determine what types of contaminants are present on the site and in what volume. This week, we take a closer look at what Phase II environmental site assessments entail.

Do I need it?

There is no definitive answer to this question. Whether a Phase II ESA is necessary really depends on the findings of a Phase 1 ESA, the opinion of the environmental consultant, and the level of risk acceptance. Although the presence of contamination does not always necessitate a Phase 2 ESA, laboratory testing is the only way to conclusively understand the condition of a property.

It is important to remember that even if the phase I ESA turned up some evidence of possible contamination, it doesn’t actually mean that there is contamination. That is why phase II exists – to determine if there is any concrete fact to complement the evidence found in phase I. The environmental inspector will know whether or not you’ll need a phase II ESA and if it is worth it or not.

In some cases, it may be needed and in others, it may not – but there should always be facts and information that your environmental inspector has based his claims on. If there is an indication that your site may be contaminated and the inspector advises you to move forward with a phase II ESA, then the testing stage will commence.


The tests that are employed in this stage depend entirely on what sort of evidence and data was uncovered during phase I. There is a number of different types of tests that are implemented to confirm either the presence or absence of contamination at a site. These include:

  • Surface soil and water samples – Testing equipment is used in the field to gain an initial view of how contaminated the samples are before they’re tested in a lab.
  • Mould, asbestos and lead sampling – These substances can cause grievous harm to your health and are an important testing phase, especially with Australia’s history with asbestos.
  • Soil borings (subsurface) – If it suspected that there is soil contamination below the surface, then drilling equipment is deployed. On-site testing can be used to determine results and later backed up with samples tested in a laboratory.
  • Drum sampling – If there are drums present on the site then samples will be taken to determine what exactly they are. This is especially important if they’re unmarked drums.
  • Dry well, floor drain and catch basin sampling – These areas could attract possible environmental contamination.
  • Transformer or capacitor sampling – Transformers and capacitors could contain PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls). Unmarked ones are especially suspicious and should be sampled and tested.
  • Geophysical testing – This is done to determine whether or not there are tanks and drums that are stored beneath the ground.
  • Underground storage tank testing – If there are tanks found below the ground, then their integrity is analysed to ensure there are no leaks.

Since samples are being taken for testing, a phase II ESA actually takes a lot longer than a phase I. The samples are tested in a laboratory so an absolutely certain conclusion can be made. If the tests come back conclusively showing contamination, then steps will be taken to remedy the contamination in phase III – should you wish to advance.

Installation of a groundwater monitoring well

If the Phase I ESA has flagged the possibility of groundwater contamination, then groundwater monitoring wells may be installed to access the groundwater for sampling. These wells are usually a vertically cased hole which has been screened or slotted so that groundwater can flow in and a consultant can take samples for testing. Sometimes multiple monitoring wells will need to be installed to determine contaminant concentrations at different depths.


If there is no hard evidence that the site is contaminated, then a report is created and given to you with all the relevant details. Remediation is not necessary for this situation as there is no contamination. However, if there is contamination found, then a phase III environmental site assessment may be necessary, and remediation can then commence.

Are you in need of a phase II environmental site assessment?

If it is recommended that you initiate a phase II environmental site assessment, then you should do so. Alpha Environmental is an experienced environmental agency that has experience with environmental site assessments. Our highly qualified and fully trained consultants will be able to conduct phase II environmental site assessments, should your site require them. We also specialise in a myriad of other environmental services such as soil and asbestos testing.

If your site is in need of environmental site assessments – across any of the three phases – then please get in contact with us by giving us a call on 1300 039 181. You can also go to our website and fill out the contact form and we will be in touch with you to discuss any environmental site assessments you may require.