When people ask about an Environmental Record Search, they typically can only mean one of a few things. In the environmental consulting industry we use database vendors for our environmental records search. While this function could, in theory, be done without wholesale environmental database reports, it would be much more difficult to do. It’s also a lot easier to miss important information. Most environmental data is public information but is strewn across the internet in dozens if not hundreds of locations. If your goal is environmental risk management, it doesn’t pay to try to cheap-out and search the free databases.
In addition, unless you are an environmental professional, you probably won’t know what to look for or even what the information means once you find it. We have clients call us all the time to tell us they did their own search. Sometimes they find something, sometimes they don’t. Both are alarming to a certain degree. Environmental issues with the city, county, state or federal government can be “open” or “closed”. They can also be started but never finished. Knowing the status of something you find in an environmental database can often swing the value of a commercial property by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The same can be said for NOT finding something you should have found because you cheaped-out and did your own research.
Just to drive this point home further, there are environmental consultants who believe they are “saving their client money” by searching the public databases themselves. In reality, these companies opt to not purchase environmental database records because they want to pocket the difference between spending the money on a proper environmental database search and spending no money at all on a cursory search. We come across these cheap environmental competitors all the time and their work is pretty terrible, not to mention incredibly risky from a financial point of view.
At first glance, it may seem self-serving that you need an environmental consultant to tell you what environmental contamination affects the real estate you want to purchase.
I’m actually not saying that at all.
What I AM saying is you need to purchase a proper environmental record search from an accredited vendor.
Good Environmental Record Search Vendors
Here at A3E, we think ERIS is the better of the two. ERIS doesn’t sell data to anyone but an environmental consultant with an account. EDR typically sells to anyone with an account but they aren’t really set up to take orders like Amazon. End users of environmental data typically have to purchase these databases through companies like us.
Types of Environmental Records Searches
This is a compilation of all the Federal, State, County and Municipal data sources for anyone who ever crossed the path of a regulatory body. It includes anyone who manufactured, transported, stored, used or spilled hazardous materials in, on or around a commercial property. By “around” we mean that these environmental records searches are performed in a radius around a centerpoint. The radius is 1/4 mile. This has the benefit of telling you if anyone of the neighboring properties is leaking on to yours.
City directories is a fancy way of saying “Yellow Pages” or “Phone Books”. These city directories are the listings by street address of all of the historic uses of the neighboring properties back to the beginning of the telephone. The names of these businesses give an environmental consultant a good idea of who occupied these properties and what types of business they engaged in. Different types of businesses like automotive, drycleaning and metals manufacturing have different types of risk associated with them.
Fire Insurance Maps
Fire Insurance Maps are known in the business as FIMs. These were drawings, very often by hand, going back to sometimes the 1870’s. They tell us who occupied a property and what they did on the property. They also give us insight into locations of underground tanks and what those tanks held. These maps are a throwback to the days when entire cities burned to the ground, such as during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. They don’t always exist. The closer you are to an old city center, the more likely you will find FIMs with information about your commercial property.
Historical Aerial Photographs
The turn of the last century was the beginning of flight. Governments wisely chose to take pictures of their cities and more importantly, the expansion of their cities from the air. They performed this service every 5 years (give or take). The result was a very good record of what was happening on property throughout time. We can often identify old landfills, old junk yards and old oil fields because of historic aerial photos.
Historic Topographic Maps
Historic topographic maps are good ways to find historic, unlicensed landfills. They also are very helpful in suggesting which way groundwater flows. This is super important when your property is downhill from your neighbor and it’s your neighbor’s contamination that is polluting yours.
Environmental Record Search Cost
Environmental Screening Report – $59 to $127
These are commonly known as a desktop environmental study and depending on if you just want environmental search report or if you want A3 Environmental Consultants professional interpretation of the data, you can get these for $59 or $127. Obviously, the higher priced option comes with a written report for your files. These are used by commercial lending institutions as a “lite” (limited scope) version of environmental due diligence when making low risk loans. Other clients use these as the fastest and least expensive option to evaluate environmental risk when a commercial bank isn’t requiring them to dig further. These typically take 48 hours.
This is an official product which was developed in conjunction with the Small Business Administration (SBA) as a less expensive form of environmental record search for SBA backed loans. This is also considered “Desktop Due Diligence” because it does not include an on-site visit by an environmental professional. Taking out this labor is where most of the cost savings comes from. It also helps keep the turnaround times down. You’ll find we perform these projects in 5 business days. Even for the SBA these are preliminary, should anything of concern be found. RSRA can be escalated to a full Phase I ESA, complete with on-site visit should the need arise.
Complete Environmental Record Search – $375 – $415
If you would like a environmental record search with all the databases listed above it will cost $375 without topographic maps and $415 with topographic maps. These are the same databases we use to base our conclusions regarding Phase I ESAs and Phase II ESAs. These databases take 5 business days to deliver. This price is only for the databases. If you’d like a report or professional interpretation, you really need the RSRA which is outlined above.
If you need a Environmental Record Search , research or testing done on your property or one you are interested in purchasing, give A3 Environmental Consultants a call. Our Assessments meet the requirements of all commercial lenders and government agencies such as the SBA, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). A3 Environmental Consultants can be reached at (888) 405-1742 or by email at Info@A3E.com.