Penn State has many opportunities to acquire property, generally through purchase or as a gift. In addition, we also lease many properties for our use  In many of these cases, through the due diligence process and in conjunction with the Office of Physical Plant’s Facilities Resources and Planning Real Estate Section, EHS reviews the proposed property to determine if the potential exists for the presence of environmental contamination.  If that is possible, EHS oversees Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) which are performed by a contracted qualified environmental consulting firm. The ESA process follows the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) procedure. 

The information obtained from the due diligence process, and if needed, the ESA, is used in the decision process for the purchase or lease of a property.  The presence of contaminants may require the owner to perform site cleanups to meet environmental standards prior to purchase, may impact the purchase price of the property, or may require Penn State to perform clean-up actions follow acquisition.  In the case of leased properties, the ESA can document existing conditions to provide a baseline for comparison at a later date.

In addition to property acquisition, an Environmental Site Assessment may be performed on Penn State property for a variety of other reasons including new information on historic use that may indicate potential contamination, a new use for an area, or evidence of previous spills, releases, or contamination.

Phase I ESA

A Phase I ESA includes a "Transaction Screen Questionnaire" which is a tool that systematically evaluates the property for the presence or likely presence of impacts from contaminants, including hazardous materials and petroleum products.  The information in the questionnaire is provided by one or all of the following: the property owner, the occupant, or observations during the site visit.

The goal of the Phase I ESA is to determine if there are "recognized environmental conditions" at the site.  This term is defined as the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on the property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or a material threat of a release into the ground, ground water, or surface water of the property. This is done by:

  • Reviewing existing records,
  • Conducting a site reconnaissance,
  • Conducting an environmental lien search of the property owner,
  • Conducting a search of federal and state databases,
  • Conducting interviews with site-related and regulatory officials, and
  • Reviewing published soil and geology data.

Occasionally water or soil samples may be collected at the site.

The collected information for the Phase I ESA is compiled, and the recognized environmental conditions at the site, if any, are identified. Based on the findings, a Phase II ESA may be recommended.


A Phase II ESA is performed to further investigate any recognized environmental conditions that may be found during the Phase I ESA.  The Phase II investigation includes further sampling of the site, generally by soil borings or monitoring well construction for ground water sampling.  The object of the Phase II ESA is to confirm the presence or absence of impacts from the recognized environmental conditions, and if present, to define the extent of the impact.  In some cases, additional information is required, necessitating a Phase III ESA.

Contact EHS for further information.