The American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) which is tasked with developing the scope of work for Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) reports recently began work to upgrade its property environmental due diligence standard, E1527-13. The two digit number at the end represents the year it was published. The most current standard was published in 2013 and must be reauthorized every eight years or face a sunset provision. As E1527 is the de-facto standard in the industry, one can expect the standard to be upgraded based upon experience learned in the last five years. Without this standard, the industry would have no nationally recognized environmental due diligence work scope for consultants to follow.
There was some confusion with the E1527-13 standard as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required that the standard comply with the 2005 All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) rule which provides legal protections to an innocent purchaser. While the ASTM E1527-05 standard did comply with AAI, any changes made in the E1527-13 standard had to remain consistent with AAI. However, many consultants did not adhere to the upgraded E1527-13 standard, but rather continued to follow the E1527-05 standard. As such, the fees they charged were substantially lower. This created a chaotic environment and pricing amongst consultants differed by as much as several thousands of dollars vs. hundreds of dollars for what should have been a similar apples-apples scope of services by those bidding for the work. Clients not recognizing the difference, often chose the lowest cost provider.
Those tasked with drafting that standard were frustrated that the EPA would allow the prior standard (E1527-05) to carry equal AAI weight as E1527-13. After a period of petitioning the EPA to rethink their position, by October 2015 only E1527-13 was solely recognized as AAI compliant. The ASTM committee responsible for the E1527 standard has begun the task of updating it (what will presumably be referred to eventually as the E1527-21 standard). The most recent meeting of this group of industry experts was recently held in Washington, D.C. on October 24th. The committee typically meets in April and October of each year for several days to discuss improvements to the standard.
The 2013 version of E1527 saw the advent of a Vapor Encroachment (VE) section to be included in the ESA report. Previously considered an indoor air quality (IAQ) component and left as an additional service or non-scope item, it was not required to be part of the ESA report. VE is the process by where contaminants in the soil and groundwater can volatize and migrate toward the target property and may eventually migrate into structures on the property and result in an indoor air quality issue (vapor intrusion). The source of the vapors can be releases on the target property itself or releases from adjacent properties within the vicinity. Although many types of manufacturing and industrial sites can have volatile chemical releases, the most common concern encountered in Phase I work is from current or former dry-cleaner locations and current or former gasoline station locations.
The vapor issue has drawn attention nationally as regulators can (and have) opened previously closed spill events where vapor migration was not assessed. In addition, New York City will be mandating that no dry-cleaning using the solvent perchloroethylene (perc) will be allowed to continue such operations in buildings with residential units as of 2020.
So as the E-50 task group sets out to upgrade the E1527-13, one can expect much discussion and comment. Hopefully, this time there will be no confusion regarding AAI compliance. Since the goal is to improve upon what has been learned as an industry over the last five years, it is expected an updated version of E1527 will replace the prior standard in a timely fashion, so everyone benefits.
Chuck Merritt, LEED AP, is the president of Merritt Environmental Consulting Corp., Hauppauge, N.Y.