Dec 31, 2013

Potential impacts from new ASTM standard for Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

LexologyFor the past eight years, the world of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments has been governed by American Society for Testing and Materials ("ASTM") Standard E1527-05. However, ASTM's policy is to review its standards every eight years, and the shelf life of the E1527-05 Standard has now passed. Borne out of ASTM's review process is the new ASTM E1527-13 Standard, published on November 6, 2013. The E1527-13 practice is intended to represent the evolving state-of-the-art in environmental due diligence protocols.While ASTM E1527-13 has not yet been blessed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") as meeting the requirements of All Appropriate Inquiries ("AAI") under CERCLA, that designation is expected to come before long. In the meantime, in order to be eligible for the AAI protections, a party seeking to acquire a property must continue to use ASTM E1527-05 when obtaining a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment. This creates an unusual situation, since ASTM E1527-05 is likely to soon be superseded.

One option during this interim period pending the EPA's approval of ASTM E1527-13 as AAI complaint is to conduct one's Phase I Environmental Site Assessment using ASTM E1527-05, and adding certain "non-scope" items which will be standard under E1527-13. Specifically, those additional items are (1) evaluating the potential for hazardous vapors to migrate onto the target property, and (2) reviewing governmental regulatory files for the target and/or adjacent properties, if those properties are listed in a public environmental database.

There are several potential impacts that may arise once ASTM E1527-13 becomes the gold standard for AAI that businesses and individuals expecting to undertake real estate or corporate transactions in the near future should consider.

First, the new E1527-13 Standard will likely cause an increase in the cost and time required to complete a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment. ASTM Standard E1527-13 more strongly requires the environmental professional preparing the report to conduct regulatory agency file reviews when the property or adjoining properties are listed in a standard environmental records source. While some consultants already perform this review as a matter of customary practice, many others will be adding this review to their standard scope of work. As a result, various factors such as the responsiveness of a regulatory agency in responding to file requests or the sheer volume of material to be reviewed in those files could increase the anticipated turn-around time of a Phase I ESA. The increased time and work involved in preparing the Phase I ESA will almost certainly be accompanied by an increase in the consultant's fees. As a result, parties entering into purchase and sale agreements should consider negotiating longer due diligence inspection periods to ensure adequate time to complete the reviews, and should consider the potential increased costs during the budget planning process.