Toxic cleanups can expose property owners to liabilities reaching into the millions of dollars. When people prepare to purchase commercial/industrial real estate, they trust environmental site assessment (ESA) consultants to reveal the environmental risks within the land they’re about to buy.
Unfortunately, consultants who conduct ESAs can make expensive mistakes if they’re not thorough enough. A recent CTL Engineering client revealed the nature of this hazard when we found a huge oversight from a previous ESA the client received from another firm.
The challenge: Revealing the full scope of toxic hazards at a commercial/industrial site
CTL has been conducting ESAs for decades. One of our longtime clients asked us to conduct an ESA on a light-manufacturing site they were considering purchasing.
The site’s current owner already conducted the first two phases of an ESA:
- Phase I: A review of documentation and disclosures on toxins at the site.
- Phase II: Soil sample analysis to confirm the existence of toxins.
The owner also had started a cleanup based on the findings of these phases.
Because CTL had earned the would-be buyer’s trust in previous real estate transactions throughout the Midwest, the client hired us again to bring in expert environmental scientists to reassess the site.
The solution: Unmasking hazards missed in previous ESAs
Our client asked us to conduct a new Phase I ESA on the light-manufacturing site. As we pored over documentation about the property and reviewed previous reports, we found that a previous owner of the facility had conducted metal fabrication on the site.
Buried in the documentation was one sentence revealing that the previous owner used trichloroethylene (TCE), a popular degreaser used in many metal-cleaning processes. TCE is an extremely hazardous toxin linked to liver toxicity, possible cancers, and many more health dangers.
The previous ESA consultants apparently overlooked the reference to TCE. That omission was significant because the presence of TCE is a recognized environmental condition (REC) as noted by ASTM E 1527-13. The REC designation means it’s reasonable to believe the toxin had been released into soils, surface water, or groundwater at the site (or could be released in the future).
A REC on a site exposes its current owner and future owners to potential liabilities for expensive cleanup, hefty regulatory fines, dangerous health hazards, and drawn out litigation.
Our Phase II ESA confirmed widespread TCE contamination at the site.
The result: Substantial liabilities averted
News of the site’s TCE contamination caused the would-be buyer to think twice before purchasing the site. Ultimately, the revelation helped our client sidestep liabilities that could have easily stretched into the millions of dollars.
This case underscores the importance of partnering with an ESA consultant who has a track record with a broad variety of commercial/industrial property transactions. It’s not enough to know that an ESA was previously conducted on a site — it needs to be surveyed by a company you can trust. Our consultants know what to look for and have the experience to flag problems that others miss.
That’s why CTL Engineering clients trust us to perform comprehensive ESAs that discover hidden — and costly — landmines.