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An environmental assessment is done to determine whether a property has a current environmental liability or is likely to have an environmental liability in the future. There are different kinds of assessments and they can be done at the request of different entities (current owner, prospective buyer, bank or lending institution, real estate agent, state or municipal regulator, attorney, etc.). They are commonly required by the person or entity likely to incur liability should the property change ownership.

The terminology may vary from state to state. The following descriptions are taken from Ouellette, R. and Maestri, B. ("The Process and Cost of Environmental Audits", Hazmat World, October 1989, p. 57-61). environmental inventory - identifies what quantities of different materials are present environmental inspection - a walk-through to identify materials and determine how they are managed; might include rudimentary sampling environmental audit - broader review to determine suspected, actual, and potential liabilities; basic purpose is to reduce environmental and financial uncertainties for all parties involved in a transaction; types: 1. inspection: term commonly used to connote asbestos hazard "management"; 2. compliance audit: a one-to-one comparison between regulations and a facility's performance; 3. risk assessment: includes an evaluation of the impact on health & safety from potential threats; 4. environmental impairment liability risk assessment: insurance-oriented; for obtaining adequate insurance coverage; environmental assessment - more in-depth review than audit; incorporates health and safety impacts.

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