What is an Environmental Site Assessment: Phase I & II

An Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is needed for all commercial properties in the United States, especially regarding acquiring new properties, financing, or refinancing commercial properties.

An environmental assessment is designed to help lenders, buyers, and potential property owners recognize and identify the likelihood of contamination before making a purchase or a financing decision on a commercial property.

Environmental impact assessments are conducted to detect the possibility of environmental contamination, the nature and degree of contamination, as well as the remediation and rehabilitation steps to take to reclaim the land.

Lenders and buyers will request a phase II environmental site assessment if the phase I assessment proves the presence of environmental contamination.

Both environmental site assessments have their place in verifying site contamination. While phase I highlights the presence of contamination, phase II quantifies and substantiates the source and nature of contamination, often by using qualitative and scientific principles.

Therefore, property buyers and lenders need to understand the differences between the two assessments.

Phase I & Phase II Assessment: Side-by-Side Comparison

1. Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)

Phase I involves the review of records and documentation to ascertain whether the land or property has been used for environmentally hazardous purposes.

Phase I also involves a visual observation of the property’s current status and standing compared to the site plans. Phase I environmental site assessment further captures a visual inspection of all the adjoining properties.

Finally, this phase captures an interview with the current property occupants, owners, operators, and local government. The phase I assessment aims to evaluate the likelihood of contamination in a given site or property.

Establishing the likelihood of environmental contamination highlights the purpose of Phase I environmental site assessment.

2. Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)

This phase first captures sampling (water and soil) for potential contamination signs. Phase II further proceeds to compare the laboratory results of the soil and water tests with state, local, and federal guidelines.

The phase II assessment may inspect properties internally for mold, lead paint, and radon. Phase II assessment may include inspection of protected ecosystems (like wetlands) and endangered species that may prevent land use.

The underlying goal of Phase II environmental site assessment is to verify the actual presence of environmental contaminants—bacteria, viruses, organisms, and protected ecosystems—that may inhibit meaningful land use.

Why Conduct a Site Assessment?

The importance of an environmental site assessment cannot be overstated. In 1980, a series of court determinations tasked the current property owners and lenders with the burden of environmental contaminant clean-up.

The current landowners were tasked with contamination clean-up even though the previous occupiers had been responsible for the contamination. The court’s determinations were based on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The CERCLA environmental framework held these parties—owners, users, occupiers, and lenders—responsible for clean-ups even if the contamination emanated from previous owners.

Inter-State Environmental Site Assessment Regulatory Guidelines

It’s crucial to note that environmental guidelines differ among states.


In Virginia, the Department of Environmental Quality DEQ is responsible for coordinating the Commonwealth’s response to environmental action. The department is responsible for environmental planning records for all Federal and State projects. The department of environmental quality oversees all the documentation involved in state projects.

The Office of Environmental Impact Review reviews the following projects:

  • Environmental impact reports for state projects
  • Virginia department of aviation environmental reports
  • State corporation commission environmental reports
  • Exploration of resources in state-owned mines
  • Environmental assessment on drilling of tidewater

Federal projects

  • Federal consistency reviews in conformity to the Coastal Zone and Management Act
  • National Environmental Policy documents


In Maryland, response to environmental contamination and rehabilitation is solely the reserve of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Environmental Information for Maryland is captured by the EPA and states the environmental guidelines.

The environmental requirements for environmental contamination and rehabilitation include air in Maryland. All approved air state implementation plans for air quality will be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other air-related acts and regulations include:

  • Clean air act in Maryland
  • Local air indoor quality champions
  • Mercury and Air toxics
  • Community air monitoring
  • Radon measurement maps
  • Status of region operating permits

These and other regulations underlie environmental site assessment in Maryland.

D.C. Area

The District of Columbia has a different approach to environmental impact assessment.

According to the D.C. ESA regulations, whenever the Board, Mayor, buyer, or any other person approves a major action that’s likely to have negative environmental implications—if implemented, the Mayor, the Board, the authority, or persons who approved such actions with detrimental environmental effects shall prepare a detailed environmental impact assessment, or EIS, plan within 60 days before its implementation.

The District of Columbia, otherwise referred to as D.C., finds authorities tasked with environmental wellbeing as central in actualizing sustainable environmental action plans through proper review and approval processes.

DFM Development Services – Experts in Environmental Impact Assessment

You can contact DFM Development Services for consultations on environmental impact assessments in either D.C., Virginia, or Maryland areas. We are a seasoned provider of professional EIA services—alongside document review and approval solutions for Federal and State projects.

About DFM

DFM Development Services is the leading Red Tape Consultancy in the DC Metro Region, specializing in navigating complex and time-consuming regulatory processes for Real Estate Development and AEC Industry Professionals.

From expediting complex building permits and the bond release process to ensuring environmental compliance and precise dry utility design, our tailor-made approach empowers you to confidently move forward with your project, knowing you’ve successfully met all compliance requirements.

Recent Posts

Environmental Compliance

Decoding Wetlands & Their Unique Features

Understanding where wetlands are present and what characterizes them is challenging. An area may appear wetland-like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is one. That’s where this article can help.

Read More »

Contact Us

DFM Development Services, LLC

Address: 400 N Washington St, 3rd Floor, Falls Church, VA 22046

Phone: (703) 942-8700

Contact jobs@dfmdevelopment.com for job inquires
Contact proposals@dfmdevelopment.com for proposals

For general inquiries, please fill out the form.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.