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The standard lays out the methodology to evaluate the potential for vapor intrusion from on-site and off-site sources of contamination. It can be used in conjunction with the Phase I environmental site assessment to evaluate a site with potential vapor-intrusion conditions, or it can stand alone. Tenants who are leasing space, however, may be more inclined to request a vapor-intrusion assessment than a Phase I, given that their primary goal is to ensure that their customers and employees have a safe place to work.
The vapor-intrusion standard provides four tiers of analysis. Tier No. 1 evaluates the potential for vapor-intrusion risk quickly and inexpensively by determining the presence of contaminated plumes beneath or in close proximity to the property. The most basic Tier No. 1 analysis can be provided for a relatively inexpensive fee. Of course, if a site requires additional analysis or site-specific data, the fees will be greater.
The first-tier analysis considers depth of groundwater, preferential migration pathways and the nature of the contaminants. An environmental professional conducting a Tier No. 1 will recommend no further action or conclude that there is a potential vapor-intrusion condition. Potential conditions can include contaminated sites, sites where regional groundwater-contamination plumes have spread to the groundwater under the building and sites where the neighboring property is known or suspected to be contaminated.
Tier No. 2 requires that environmental professionals collect site-specific data, review files and analyze hydrogeological conditions. This analysis allows for the collection of new site-specific data, but it does not require new data collection if enough information is available through old reports and file reviews.
In Tier No. 3, an environmental professional collects soil, gas and/or indoor air samples. Through collecting and modeling data, environmental professionals will determine if the buildings on-site have a vapor-intrusion condition.
The final tier is Tier No. 4. It addresses mitigation measures such as vapor barriers, passive venting, active venting and site remediation. In some instances, buyers may opt to skip directly to this level of analysis, as it sets out to create a safe building.
The more-technical applications of the ASTM standard are in the third and fourth tiers. As such, borrowers seeking these levels of analysis should request a registered engineer or an appropriately qualified professional.
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Will vapor-intrusion studies become as common in commercial real estate as the Phase I and Phase II? Although it is too early to tell, a recent survey published by the Environmental Bankers Association reported that 86 percent of its members thought vapor intrusion was an issue of concern in real estate lending. A big change could be coming to environmental due diligence in commercial real estate.
The ASTM standard exists, in part, to address the concerns of real estate investors, lenders, tenants and other people involved in commercial real estate. It enables these parties to assess the sometimes-nebulous concept of environmental risk through common analytical tools. And that is good for everyone.
Joe Derhake, a registered civil engineer, serves as the president of Partner Engineering and Science, an environmental and engineering consulting firm. His clientele includes dozens of national lenders, as well as regional banks and developers. Derhake's practice focuses on environmental and engineering due diligence.
Throughout his career, he has participated in more than 10,000 Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments, property-condition assessments and soil gas surveys. Contact him at (310) 615-4500.
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