Contamination on the site

Hi ARE community, one quick question when read the book:

If we find contamination on the site, what is the first step we should do? Should we write to owner immediately and let them decide whether to increase the budget? Or take some other measures?


Hi @whuang ,

What book are you referring to?

It’s important to remember that the architect is seldom going to be the one on site who might uncover some sort of environmental contamination. It’s very likely the owner already knows if there is contamination on site. If the architect suspects there might be issues the owner does not have an understanding of, they should advise the owner of this in writing. The owner should procure an environmental site assessment (ESA). The ESA is performed by a professional - often times Civil Engineering/Surveying Firms will also have this service available. I’ve reviewed ESA’s from Terracon before -

General conditions will be identified in a phase 1 ESA. If areas of concern are found, a phase 2 ESA should be completed.

The professional performing the ESA will compile their report and send to the owner. The report will contain their findings as well as what further steps the owner might be required to make to mitigate any site issues. Often times, an owner might request an ESA on a site prior to purchasing it to limit their liability.

You can read more about ESA’s in the “Site Planning and Design Handbook” on pages 63 - 71 ! You can also get a general understanding of them on Wikipedia: Phase I environmental site assessment - Wikipedia

This was a very general overview of ESA’s. If you’re looking for more in depth information on site assessment beyond what’s in the Black Spectacles Lectures the “Site Planning and Design Handbook” is one of the major resources the ARE is pulling from in the P&A exam in particular.

Hope this helps!


Hi Darion,

Thanks for such detailed reply! It’s really helpful.

The book gives the context that contractor uncovered contamination(ex: lead, asbestos) during construction, so I would assume ESA haven’t find anything hazard during Phase 1 but actually there is? Would that be possible that ESA miss this?

Also is there any scenario ESA will skip Phase 1 and directly start with Phase 2? For example there is contamination history in site?


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Hi @whuang ,

No problem! I’m here to help :slight_smile:

It’s always possible something was missed or uncovered, even after what should have adequate assessment… It’s a crazy world! In this instance the contractor should notify the owner, who should hire an environmental professional to evaluate. This type of assessment is outside of the architect’s scope of expertise.

There will always be a Phase 1 ESA first in some form I believe. If it’s a known factor that a Phase 2 will likely be required they will be done at the same time, but there’s general information in the Phase 1 which will be necessary in order to complete the Phase 2. The Phase 1 is the surface assessment. Phase 2 is the investigative assessment where samples will be taken and analyzed – according to the “Site Planning and Design Handbook” page 461 it’s purpose is: “usually to confirm the suppositions of the Phase 1 investigation: to identify the limit and extent of contamination in three dimensions.”


Thanks Darion! Much clearer!


Glad to be here and join in for this seminar!

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