E50 Standards Protect People and the Environment

Cicely Enright

Standards for Environmental Site Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action

To help navigate the complex demands of today's regulatory environment with regard to storage tanks, commercial real estate and more, ASTM Committee E50 continues to provide guidance to industry.

E50 Standards Protect People and the Environment

Every day we gather guidance from directions on a roadmap, steps in a how-to book or the expertise of an instructor or colleague. For those engaged in commercial real estate transactions impacted by U.S. federal legislation, guidance comes through standards from ASTM International Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action.

This year, Committee E50 marks 20 years of providing guidance on environmental assessment applications: more than 1,000 members currently maintain 34 standards related to commercial real estate and forestland, tanks and surface mines. And the committee's work continues as it grapples with climate change and the challenges of writing standards connected to that issue and others.

Storage Tanks and a New Committee

Like many ideas, it began with pen and a paper napkin. In this case, after a day of standards development meetings, a gathering of ASTM members determined that an activity on petroleum storage tanks would more appropriately be its own technical committee. That's how William Gulledge recalls the concept for the committee, which grew into a separate group in 1990 from Committee D34 on Waste Disposal. Gulledge, senior director, Chemical Products and Technology, American Chemistry Council, Arlington, Va., is still involved in several E50 groups; he says, "E50 came from D34, but since the activities of E50 were not related to waste disposal, the new committee idea arose."

The committee's ongoing standards activities related to petroleum storage tanks have produced such standards as E1990, Guide for Performing Evaluations of Underground Storage Tank Systems for Operational Conformance with 40 CFR, Part 280 Regulations, an educational tool for tank owners, operators and other users that provides an overview of general requirements for these systems.

Subcommittee E50.01 on Storage Tanks is currently working on WK11080, Guide for Environmentally Sound Management of Underground Storage Tank Systems Storing Hazardous Substances or Petroleum, which addresses the principal considerations for preventing problems, and Subcommittee E50.04 on Corrective Action is working on WK15256, Guide for Investigation of Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Equipment Problems and Releases, which will establish protocols and documentation for industry, regulators and consultants to identify compliance options and reduce pollution using a tiered approach.

Risk-Based Corrective Action

More than a half million storage tanks for petroleum or other hazardous chemicals exist in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the prevention, detection and cleanup of tanks that leak.

In the mid-1990s, E50 saw that it could provide guidance through a streamlined decision process to select corrective actions for petroleum release sites. "The challenge is to determine what poses a risk - and what does not," wrote Dennis Rounds, an E50 officer, in the January 2005 SN. Rounds, executive director of the Office of Risk Management and the Petroleum Release Compensation Fund in Pierre, S.D., adds that risk-based corrective action was developed with training in mind so that the guide could be implemented successfully by state environmental regulatory programs. That has happened with RBCA, which is a part of programs in most states.

Starting with E1739, Guide for Risk-Based Corrective Action Applied at Petroleum Release Sites, which focuses on one source - the petroleum tank - where RBCA can come into play, the E50 group has also produced additional RBCA standards, one for chemicals other than petroleum (E2081) and one for ecological receptors (E2205), as well as related standards.

E1527, A Flagship Standard

Early on in the committee's existence, E50 members took on another challenge: to provide interest groups - bank and insurance companies that make commercial loans, purchasers, consultants who produce environmental assessment reports, environmental lawyers and government - with a common process that would satisfy EPA requirements for how to conduct "all appropriate inquiries" under the scope of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

That standard is E1527, Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process, and ASTM International first published the flagship E50 standard in 1993. Before E1527, reports to meet the EPA requirements could be as brief as a single sheet checklist or as long as hundreds of pages of information, according to John Worlund, Converse Consultants, Bellingham, Wash., and an ASTM International member since 1988. There was a need for guidance, and Committee E50 stepped up to fill that need.

Little did Worlund think, back in 1993, that he would still be teaching ASTM technical and professional training courses on environmental site assessment in 2010. Worlund knew the value of the course, and the standard on which it is based, but he wondered how long the need would continue. He adds that additional professionals have entered the field or have new responsibilities for such work, so he continues to teach the course. It's 15 years later and the course, based on E1527, still headlines ASTM International TPT listings.

ASTM holds TPT courses based on E1527 and on companion standards E1528, Practice for Limited Environmental Due Diligence: Transaction Screen Process, and E1903, Guide for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Process, among others. E1528 delineates a checklist environmental process for "clean" pieces of real estate (those never used for industrial purposes). E1903 covers parcels where potential problems have been identified, then dealt with, and is often used, Worlund says, to help define the problem in a business sense in order to determine risk and whether to proceed with a purchase.

"If you were getting ready to buy a piece of commercial real estate, you didn't want to buy one that was contaminated because you could be held responsible for the cleanup," Worlund says.

"This standard [E1527] has made a huge contribution to the commercial real estate market place," Gulledge says. E1527 covers how to conduct an inquiry designed to identify recognized environmental conditions in connection with a property such as a gas station or dry cleaner, and it is cited in the EPA All Appropriate Inquiries law. As Julie Kilgore, Wasatch Environmental Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, and chairman of Committee E50, wrote in the June 2006 SN, "Those early efforts [in the early 1990s] resulted in an ASTM standard practice that [has] stood the test of time and held up to the severe scrutiny of an equally passionate and committed EPA negotiating team."

Climate Change

Committee E50 continues to recognize the need for guidance with its current work on what climate change means for a corporation's bottom line. The committee is considering standards regarding the business side of climate change.

"Financial disclosures attributed to environmental liabilities (climate change included) are required of public companies" by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Gulledge says. "Climate change is a new area for these disclosures, and ASTM is providing guidance for these disclosures."

ASTM published the first standard from E50's climate change task group, a part of Subcommittee E50.05 on Environmental Risk Management, in March of this year. The standard, E2718, Guide for Financial Disclosures Attributed to Climate Change, delineates a process to identify potential financial risks and opportunities associated with climate change, quantify the financial impact of those risks and decide the appropriate disclosure content.

Other work items now under way are intended to assist companies as they take further steps. These drafts consist of:

  • WK21096, Guide for Disclosures Related to Climate Change Exposures/Risks;
  • WK21808, Guide for Basic Assessment and Management of Greenhouse Gases;
  • WK21810, Guide for Integration of Climate Change Risk Management into Sustainability and Greening Programs;
  • WK21811, Guide for Using Renewable Energy Projects on Brownfields in Climate Risk Management Strategies; and
  • WK21812, Guide for Adaption Mitigation for Climate Change Risk.

Ongoing Guidance

Committee E50 continues to look at environmental assessment and risk management and how it can provide standards needed by industry. "We're trying to provide common language or boundary conditions," says Worlund.

That now means draft standards in new areas for the committee, including building energy performance and what constitutes green remediation.

A nearly 300-member task group is developing draft standard WK24707, Practice for Building Energy Performance Assessment and Disclosure for a Building Involved in a Real Estate Transaction, so that all parties understand how the energy use information has been collected and reported. And WK23495, Guide for Green and Sustainable Site Assessment and Cleanup, is an effort to help the regulated community meet environmental requirements in greener, more sustainable ways that balance the social, environmental and economic aspects of a cleanup operation.

Where environmental assessment and risk management are matters of concern, E50 is probably there too, to provide guidance.

E1527, Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process

The standard practice defines good commercial and customary practice in the United States for conducting commercial real estate environmental site assessment under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. Following the recommendations in E1527 is intended to satisfy innocent landowner, contiguous property owner or prospective purchaser limitations on CERCLA liability because the standard constitutes all appropriate inquiry into previous ownership and land uses.

E1528, Practice for Limited Environmental Due Diligence: Transaction Screen Process

E1528 covers limited environmental due diligence in situations where the Phase I environmental site assessment is not deemed to be necessary; its use will not satisfy all appropriate inquiries regarding previous ownership and use. The standard outlines a commercially prudent or reasonable approach to conducting an inquiry designed to identify potential environmental concerns.

E1739, Guide for Risk-Based Corrective Action Applied at Petroleum Release Sites

First published as an emergency standard in 1994, then fully approved in 1995, E1739 provides a tiered decision-making process that integrates risk and exposure assessment practices and involves a site assessment, site classification according to urgency for initial response, and responses according to specific conditions and risks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites E1739 in its policy on Risk-Based Decision-Making and Underground Storage Tanks.

E1903, Guide for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase II Environmental Site Assessment Process

Intended to be applied in concert with E1527 and E1528, the E1903 guide gives practical procedures to conduct further assessment of a commercial property with recognized environmental conditions; it assists in satisfying the appropriate inquiry element of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act innocent purchaser defense and in gathering information about the parcel that will help the user in making business decisions.

E2018, Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process

A walk-through survey, document review and interviews comprise the approach to conducting commercial real estate property condition assessments in E2018. The standard defines good commercial and customary practice for PCAs of primary commercial real estate improvements; facilitates consistent and pertinent content in property condition reports; makes recommendations regarding the survey and research; and suggests protocols for communicating the information.

E2081, Guide for Risk-Based Corrective Action

Originally approved as a provisional standard in 1998, E2081 addresses the process of addressing risk-based corrective actions at chemical release sites, which vary in terms of complexity and in physical and chemical characteristics. The tiered approach of the standard integrates site assessment and response actions with human and health and ecological risk assessment to tailor site-specific remedial actions.

E2247, Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process for Forestland or Rural Property

Large tracts of rural property or forest - 120 acres or more -that are part of a real estate transaction can be evaluated for environmental conditions with the assistance of E2247. The use of the standard includes landowner liability protection under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act and compliance with All Appropriate Inquiries Rule (40 CFR Part 312).

E2308, Guide for Limited Asbestos Screens of Buildings

The scope of E2308 is to provide assistance for conducting baseline limited asbestos screenings to evaluate the material's presence in systems within a commercial building; the standard also includes protocols for consistently communicating observations, opinions and recommendations about the evaluation.

E2365, Guide for Environmental Compliance Performance Assessment

A framework for developing an environmental compliance assessment program, E2365 integrates environmental compliance, environmental risk classification and business risk management for use in decision making. At each step or tier of an analysis, the guide offers ways to identify compliance options, pollution reduction or prevention and priority planning for a wide variety of applications.

E2418, Guide for Readily Observable Mold and Conditions Conducive to Mold in Commercial Buildings: Baseline Survey Process

The purpose of E2418 is defining good commercial and customary practice in assessing visible mold and conditions for its occurrence in commercial real estate. E2418 details the process of conducting a walk-through survey, document reviews and personal interviews, which allow the user to determine the need for further action.

E2600, Guide for Vapor Encroachment Screening on Property Involved in Real Estate Transactions

Commercial and customary practice for conducting a vapor intrusion assessment on a property involved in a real estate transaction can be found in E2600. The standard includes three tiers of screening and a tier of mitigation, according to the individual site, and is designed to complement existing federal and state vapor intrusion policies or guidance.

E2718, Guide for Financial Disclosures Attributed to Climate Change

The first standard approved from E50's climate change task group, E2718 provides a process to identify potential financial risks and opportunities associated with climate change; quantify the financial impact of those risks; and determine the appropriate content of disclosure for material risks.

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