Records search checklist

You can find clues about potential contaminants from a property's history. If you're planning to buy real estate,  research the past uses of the property first, especially if small or home-based businesses have operated there.

The property inspection must show due diligence. That means you must show that you investigated the property fully before buying or leasing it and did not find any contamination. If an inspection is not done with due diligence, you may be liable for cleaning up any contamination that might be found later.

For more detailed information, please read Contaminated Property Considerations: Focus on Real Estate Transactions.

Homeowners and small businesses

Check Ecology's online information tools

Conduct personal interviews with…

  • Current and former property owners
    (plus operators and employees, for small businesses)
  • Regulatory agency employees
  • Nearby residents, businesses

Review records of local, state, and federal regulatory agencies

  • EPA, including the SEMS database
  • Ecology
  • County health departments
  • Local planning offices

Check for:

  • Environmental permits
  • Hazardous waste manifests, storage notices, waste generator reports
  • Inspection reports
  • Spill reports
  • Violation notices, administrative orders, compliance schedules, enforcement actions
  • Correspondence regarding the site or property
  • Zoning, comprehensive plans
  • Business licenses

Review other public records

  • Local newspapers, clipping files
  • Records at County auditor's office
  • Records at superior and district courts


  • Title records
  • Environmental liens
  • Surrounding property owners & zoning
  • Aerial photos
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
  • Polk City Directories
  • Historical records, photos (e.g., archival records, business records, manuscripts, personal papers)
  • Books on local history

Other steps for commercial properties

Small business owners should also consider conducting a 'Phase I Site Assessment’ (often done by a contractor). See Selecting an Environmental Consulting Firm.


We provide this guide as a service to the public. Please be aware that it is not exhaustive and you may also need to obtain information from other sources. Subject matter experts have completed a quality review of the information in this guide, but there is no assurance that it is free from errors. This guide cannot be relied upon to create rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any party in litigation with the state of Washington.