Brownfields Redevelopment Program

Site Assessments

Before taking ownership of any property that has a questionable past, it is highly recommended that a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment be performed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) standard. This can provide some liability protection and makes some sites eligible for EPA brownfield cleanup grants. 

The City of Houston's Brownfields Redevelopment Program works with qualified owners, developers, or potential developers by offering environmental site assessments to incentivize brownfields redevelopment. The environmental site assessments are performed on a first-come, first-serve basis for eligible parties when funding is available. Program staff is able to offer assistance in determining the future path of properties once site assessments have been completed and provide technical assistance in applying for brownfields funding from other agencies. To determine site eligibility and qualification, an Application for Brownfields Redevelopment Assistance must be submitted. For additional information, please contact the Brownfields Redevelopment Program at 832.394.9005.

Assessment Terminology
Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) - the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in, on, or at a property (1) due to a release to the environment; (2) under conditions indicative of a release to the environment; or (3) under conditions that pose a material threat of a future release to the environment. This includes hazardous substances or petroleum products even under conditions in compliance with laws, however it does not include the minimal conditions that generally do not present a threat to human health or the environment and that generally would not be the subject of an enforcement action if brought to the attention of appropriate governmental agencies. Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (Phase I ESA) – a report reviewing and summarizing past uses of a property that is conducted to determine if there is potential for contamination on the property, either from activities on the property or from neighboring properties. The goal of the Phase I ESA is to identify RECs that may require further investigation. Typical activities performed during a Phase I ESA include:

  • Records review - All state and federal environmental records are reviewed to identify any contaminated sites in the vicinity of the property.
  • Physical setting - Includes identification of all physical characteristics of the property including geologic and topographic conditions.
  • Property uses - All historic uses of the property and adjacent properties, as well as all recorded land and title information, is collected back to original development or 1940, whichever is earlier.
  • Site reconnaissance - The property and adjacent properties are observed visually and physically and all evidence of current and historical facilities and uses are documented.
  • Interviews - Owners and occupants or adjacent property owners and occupants are interviewed to obtain information about RECs in connection with the property.
  • Historical sources such as chain of title documents, aerial photographs, building department records, and land use records will be reviewed to determine previous ownership, uses, and occupancy since first development.
  • Data gaps will be identified and documented when usage information is not available.

This is the first step in the Environmental Site Assessment process and must follow the standards outlined in ASTM E1527-13. This practice is intended to permit a user to satisfy one of the requirements to qualify for the innocent landowner, contiguous property owner, or bona fide prospective purchaser limitation under CERCLA liability.

Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (Phase II ESA) – sampling and reporting activities conducted to confirm or disprove the presence of contaminants following the identification of RECs on a property during a Phase I ESA. The sampling helps determine what contaminants are present, where on the property they are located, and the level of contamination. Cleanup plans are determined by the findings of the Phase II ESA and the desired end use of the property. Typical Phase II ESA activities include:

  • Soil samples to screen for chemical or metal contamination
  • Groundwater or surface water sampling
  • Testing of materials found in buildings on the property
  • All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) – refers to the requirements for assessing the environmental conditions of a property prior to its acquisition.  Phase I ESAs that adhere to this standard must be performed prior to the purchase of a property in order to make owners eligible for Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser status and federal brownfield cleanup grants.

More AAI Information (.pdf)