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What is the process of a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)?

Database Search


We obtain Federal, State, County and Municipal regulated databases within 1 mile of your property. We survey the records and determine if your property, the neighboring property or a surrounding property is regulated or has a known or suspect release to the environment.

City Directories


City Directories are crisscross phone books listed by street name. We search for environmentally sensitive businesses, such as dry-cleaners, plating facilities, and gas stations that at one time may have occupied your property or your neighbor’s property.

Fire Insurance Maps


Fire Insurance Maps are highly detailed drawings of urbanized areas and can include environmental data such as the occupant, location of underground storage tanks, presence of chemicals, and much more. We survey these maps if available in the property location to identify potential environmental concerns.

Historic Aerials


Aerial photographs are available for almost every year dating back to 1938 for most areas. Historic aerials will show the change of use of a property over time. For example, when a property changed from agricultural to residential or commercial/industrial use. A3E surveys the photographs closely to create a timeline of use for the property.

Survey & FOIA


We interview the past and current property owners, key site managers, occupants, and government officials to obtain information about the history of the property. In addition, we submit Freedom of Information Requests (FOIAs) to gather data on file with local, state and federal agencies. We use this information to scrutinize or clarify certain issues and elements with regard to the property.

Site Visit


We send an Environmental Professional, trained in spotting the telltale signs of environmental issues to your property for a walkthrough. Nothing beats experienced eyes inspecting your site. Our inspections usually take about an hour, depending on the size, and we take a lot of pictures. Sometimes the inspections lead to more questions. We won't leave you hanging, we find the answers.



The final step is a report generated under the industry standard that is accepted by banks and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Most Phase 1 ESAs come back fine, while others will identify what are called Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs) which may need further investigation. That deeper dive to understand the RECs is called a Phase 2 ESA.

Frequently Asked Questions About Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments (ESA)

Phase 1 Study:

A Phase 1 ESA is a comprehensive review of the environmental risks past, present and future with regard to a commercial property. They are typically done during a change in ownership of commercial property. Buyers, sellers or banks commission them. Ultimately, reasons to perform an environmental site assessment are to protect the value of the collateral for a loan for the buyer and lender. Environmental issues can be very expensive. It is not impossible for a property value to become negative due to environmental impacts from previous owners or neighboring businesses. The bank doesn't want to lend on a property it might get back in a foreclosure. They really don't want a property they can't resell without mitigating the environmental liability.

If a property is purchased without a Phase 1 ESA, the liability of the environmental impact is transferred to the new owner. When a bank takes back a property through foreclosure they'll inherit the environmental liability too. So banks often won't take possession of their own commercial foreclosures without a Phase 1 ESA.

Phase 1 Audit: Comprehensive Database Search

The Phase 1 ESA starts with a comprehensive database search. We review the Federal, State, County and Municipal databases to find any business within 1 mile of your property that used or transported hazardous materials. A3E will find any leaking underground storage tanks. We'll discover where in the regulatory process your neighbors open cases are with the State Department of Environmental Quality. If any concern showed up on any database that's in the government's possession, we'll find it.

Phase 1 Inspection: City Directories

City Directories are phone books. We search them based on your property's address to find out what kinds of businesses occupied the location going back to the dawn of the telephone. The names of the business tell us if we should be concerned about the chemicals they historically used.

Our scientists are especially interested in dry cleaning locations, plating facilities, and gas stations. Dry cleaners and gas stations have been around for over 100 years with areas possibly being redeveloped several times since then. Those chemicals, or worse yet, the tanks that held them could still be in the ground all these years later. They could be presenting health risks to anyone who digs in the soil, breathes the air inside a building or drinks the water.

Phase 1 Investigation: Fire Insurance Maps

Fire Insurance Maps are maps that tell insurance companies what structures existed on a property during any given year in the past.

Fire Insurance Maps come from a time when it was possible, maybe even inevitable that entire towns were capable of burning down. The Fire Insurance Maps helped to sort out insurance claims should catastrophic fires claim an area. Fortunately, they are still available and very enlightening as to past uses of urban sites going back to the 1880's.

A3 Environmental uses these maps to see the use of our client's property and the surrounding parcels. Often these maps will show the location of underground tanks that may or may not have been removed and the types of chemicals they used to contain.

Phase 1 Report: Historic Aerials

Cities and Counties routinely took aerial photographs for a variety of reasons throughout history.

Imagine you were going to purchase a vacant parcel of land with nothing other than some grasses and mature trees on it. What you can't tell from looking at the land is that in 1920, there was a factory that used and stored chemicals that contaminated the ground. Historic aerials would show the factory and give us an idea of where the chemicals were stored. Even though the buildings were demolished long enough ago that mature trees have taken their place, we'll know what was there.

Fire insurance maps give us insight into what we should worry about, so you don't have to worry. A3E will dig in and find your answers.

Phase 1 Survey: Onsite Visit with Environmental Professional

We send an environmental professional, trained in spotting the telltale signs of environmental issues to your property for a walkthrough.

Nothing beats experienced eyes inspecting your site. Our scientists routinely find fill pipes to underground storage tanks that the owners never knew existed or had no idea what they were for. Our inspections usually take about an hour, depending on the size, and we take a lot of pictures for our report. Sometimes the inspections lead to more questions. We won't leave you hanging, we find the answers.

Phase 1 EPA:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has nothing to do with a Phase 1 ESA at the federal or state level. Although, frequently, these two terms are confused when people speak about them. It has everything to do with how close they sound and their related industries.

Phase 1 Testing:

There is no soil testing, laboratory work or analytical as part of a standard Phase 1 ESA. If we find a Recognized Environmental Concern (REC), the project proceeds to a Phase 2 ESA which typically involves soil testing.

Phase 1 ASTM: E1527-21

The final step is to deliver to the client a report that summarizes our findings in the expected format. We utilize the ASTM E1527-21 standard which is accepted by all banks and the Small Business Administration (SBA). We can provide a SBA reliance letter to round out the complete kit you'll need to get a loan.

Our reports are routinely 400 pages. We deliver them electronically. Inside the first few pages you find an executive summary which will quickly give you your answer as to what we found.

Most Phase 1 ESAs we do come back as clean. Sometimes we find what are called Recognized Environmental Concerns (REC) which may need further investigation. That deeper dive to understand the RECs is called a Phase 2 ESA.

Phase 1 Cost:

A typical cost for a standard Phase 1 ESA is $2200. The typical turnaround time is 15 business days. Rush orders are A3 Environmental Consultants specialty. Call us or fill out the form above to order yours now.

Are there other options to a Phase 1 ESA?
How are they different?

A3E Services Flow

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How To Phase 1 Like A Pro.
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Alternative Services To Consider

Environmental Screen


Record Search
With Risk Assessment


Transaction Screen

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Phase 1 Environmental
Site Assessment

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Kind words from our clients.

Kay Pentzien

Real Estate Developer

The A3 Environmental Team completed both a Phase 1 and a Phase 2 for our property and Patrick and I couldn't be more pleased with the work they did!

Ross DePaul

Mergers & Acqusitions

I thoroughly enjoyed working with A3E on our Phase 1 studies. We were running up against some deadlines, and they jumped through hoops to get everything completed on time.

Daniela Fitzgerald


The A3E team did a great job on our Phase 1 report. They were quick , thorough and professional. They were able to give me all of the information that I needed.

Download Samples of Our Reports.

2020 Environmental Screen (ES)

Environmental Screen With Interpretation

Download Sample Report.

Environmental Screen (ES) $150

Advantages of the Environmental Screen (ES):

  • Inexpensive ($150)
  • Fast (Typically Same Day Service)

Disadvantages of Environmental Screen (ES):

  • High level overview of risks and concerns
  • No limitation of liability for environmental risk like the Phase 1 ESA has.
Phase I ESA cover page for united states Small business administration SBA reports

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment

Download Sample Report.

Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)

Advantages: Phase 1 ESA:

  • Limits environmental liability from previous owner.
  • Most thorough review of environmental risk.
  • Accepted by all banks when borrowing against a property.

Disadvantages: Phase 1 ESA:

  • More expensive than other options.
  • Slower to complete (15 Days)
2020 Record Search Risk Assessment (RSRA)

Record Search with Risk Assessment

Download Sample Report.

Record Search w/ Risk Assessment $650

Advantages: Record Search w/ Risk Assessment (RSRA):

  • Less expensive ($650) than a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment.
  • Fast (Guaranteed in 5 Days or Less)
  • Accepted, even encouraged, by the Small Business Administration (SBA)

Disadvantages: Record Search w/ Risk Assessment (RSRA):

  • Relatively high-level overview of risks and concerns.
  • No limitation of liability for environmental risk like Phase 1 ESA.

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A3 Environmental Consultants

(888) 405-1742

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HQ: 3030 Warrenville Rd. Suite 418, Lisle, IL 60532