10 Things to Avoid on Your Commercial Project – Item #3: Environmental Issues

Pristine sites are hard to come by these days. Many sites have had “prior lives.” Sometimes the sites prior use will have contaminated the ground. Other times, the material selected to build an older building may have created an environmental issue with hazardous materials such as asbestos which is found in floor tile, plaster, caulk, roofing, pipe insulation, and building panels. Lead paint was used prior to 1978 and requires remediation. Lead may also be found in piping and fixtures leading to water and soil contamination. Remediation will generate lead-contaminated dust and should be done by an environmental engineering firm. Mercury and PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) are sometimes found in materials like flooring, oil-based paint, electric parts, hydraulic fluids, fluorescent lighting & plasticizers. PCB’s were manufactured between 1929 and 1979 when they were banned due to harmful effects on human health and the environment where they bind strongly to soil and sediment. Mercury was also used in paint and as a fungicide until 1991 when its use was phased out. How can you avoid buying a “hot mess”? Engaging the services of an Environmental Engineer for what is commonly known as a “Phase I” report will do historical research into a site’s former life. It will look at surrounding areas and any nearby contaminated sites for potential impact to your property. Onsite investigation and observations will culminate in a report identifying any potential environmental issues. If there are areas of concern, further testing can be part of a Phase II investigation. These issues don’t necessarily render a site unusable but through monitoring and/or remediation, can allow for use of the property. Education will allow you to incorporate the associated expenses into your negotiations or project budget.