Environmental Issues Associated With Residential Apartment Buildings

Article by Steven Bentley, B.E.S., CEA, Jacques Whitford Environment Limited

Although the variety and severity of environmental concerns associated with residential properties are generally lower than for industrial properties, property owners should be aware that all can have significant and costly environmental concerns associated with them. Environmental concerns associated with residential apartment building sites are generally limited to building related issues such as lead, asbestos, and heating oil USTs. The identification of these concerns and the risks associated with them is an important consideration in a planned property purchase.

A description of the typical environmental concerns associated with residential apartment buildings and how they can be managed follows.

Asbestos has been used as an insulating and fire-proofing material from the early-1900s to the mid-1980s. Typical locations for friable asbestos-containing materials includes, pipe and pipe elbow insulation, boiler insulation, and spray-on fireproofing materials. Damaged friable asbestos materials can easily release fibres into the air, causing a severe health concern. Non-friable building materials (vinyl floor tiles, wall stucco, etc.) may be can easily be released during renovation activities. The control and/or removal of asbestos is facilitated through the development of an asbestos management program, which may involve the repair or complete removal of the asbestos-containing materials.

Lead is associated with old interior paint, old plumbing solder and old pipes as well as other lead based products such as wall shielding (x-ray rooms). The presence of lead is a health risk especially in a residential environment whereby dust given off by painted surfaces and the paint itself could be ingested.

Underground Storage Tanks
The presence of underground heating oil storage tanks (USTs) on-site can be an environmental concern, especially if the USTs are leaking. Many buildings in Ontario were formerly heated using fuel or heating oil. The large quantities of heating oil required to heat an apartment building were often stored on-site in USTs. Over time steel USTs and piping can leak, allowing heating oil to contaminate the subsurface soil and groundwater. Costs associated with redemption of contaminated soil and/or groundwater can be significant.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
The first step in assessing the potential environmental issues associated with any property involves the completion of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

A Phase I ESA should be completed according to the requirements of the current Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Phase I Site Assessment standard Z768-94, a comprehensive method of evaluating a sites environmental status. A Phase I ESA consists of completion of a historical review, a site reconnaissance, a regulatory files search, and provision of a written report which outlines the findings and any recommendations.

Following completion of the Phase I ESA, a determination of the environmental issues associated with a particular site can be made. Recommendations made in the Phase I ESA report to deal with these issues can be used to help determine methods to deal with the issues and their associated costs.

A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment or subsurface investigation would be conducted if concerns associated with possible contamination of the site are revealed. For example, the identification of a fuel oil UST would require a Phase II ESA to confirm the presence or absence of contamination of the surrounding soil.

For More Information:

Steven Bentley
Tel: 416-495-8614

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