Releases from underground storage tanks (USTs) are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Work with tribal, state, territorial, and industry partners must be coordinated since releases can easily contaminate surface water, underground water, and surrounding soil. As a result, the EPA is creating and implementing strategies for cleaning up legacy or stalled UST releases, including recently identified components. By ensuring the clean up of USTs, the health of the environment can be protected.
The EPA, in line with the federal UST regulations, require all contaminated underground storage tanks to be cleaned to a set of standards in order to protect and restore underground resources. Contaminants in petroleum releases such as MTBE, among others, make water unsafe to drink. Releases could also cause explosion or fire hazards, in addition to health hazards.
Available cleanup methods
Numerous cleanup methods have been used successfully for over a decade to clean thousands of sites. In most cases, the specific characteristics of the location like the type of soil and proximity to underground water make a method better compared to the others. Contaminated sites require site characterization (also known as site assessment) to help professionals select the best method for cleaning up releases.
Professional contractors base their clean up decisions on the results they get after conducting site-specific investigations. Contractors perform UST safety training to help their teams know how to handle different forms of releases. The local environmental agency approval is also needed before any cleanup process can start. In other cases, federal or state regulators take the lead at the site and make all the necessary cleanup decisions.
Leaking UST Cleanup Process
- Report the spill– Once an owner/operator notices a spill, they must report the incident to the state regulatory agency. The agency will then ask for a written report that details the spill, including any cleanup efforts that might have been conducted.
- Environmental assessment– The agency requires an investigation that can help determine the impact of the spill. Environmental professionals are needed depending on the complexity and necessity of a testing.
- Remedial action plan and implementation– The regulatory agency approves the assessment and then designs an action plan. The techniques and technologies to be employed will determine how long the cleanup will take and the costs. The implementation phase starts once the regulatory agency approves the action plan.
- Regulatory closure– Once the project is complete, the results are sampled and monitored. This will indicate if other remedial activities are required or not. The owner will receive a letter from the agency once the work is complete.
Are all polluted UST sites dangerous and equally costly to clean up?
UST sites that have been contaminated will vary considerably. If drinking water resources are adversely impacted, the cleanup activities can take months or even years, and the expenses can total up to millions of dollars. Some sites may simply involve no ground or minor contamination allowing cleanup contractors to complete their tasks quickly and at a low cost. Sometimes only the surrounding soil is impacted, and it may not have involved groundwater. The process of cleaning up such a site is generally easy and less expensive.
Can the cost of potentially expensive cleanups be controlled?
EPA is always committed to ensuring that the local and state agencies make cleanup less expensive, faster and more efficient. They work with states to encourage expedited site assessment as well as alternative technologies to make the process more efficient. EPA also supports local and state agencies to incorporate pay-for-performance agreements and risk-based decisions into their action programs. They also fund grants to encourage cleanups that are environmentally effective, including the redevelopment of areas that have been cleaned up.