Underground Storage Tanks--Who Gets to Clean up?

Environmental Training Resource
November 19, 2012 — 1,200 views  
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Underground Storage Tanks--Who Gets to Clean up?

When underground storage tanks (USTs) become contaminated, the most critical potential threat is to the environment and public health. Contaminated groundwater may dangerously impact drinking water. Various cancers in the general population and a multitude of respiratory conditions in young children have been linked to hazardous substances from leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs). If leaks or seepages do occur anywhere in the country, they must be handled in the most effective and expeditious manner. Whose responsibility is it to contain and clean up LUSTs?

Broadly, Congress mandates that the Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) division of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be its regulatory overseer for the strict laws and policies regarding contaminated storage tanks. Each state, then, essentially regulates itself under the agency's approved program called state program approval (SPA). Some states may impose more stringent cleanup requirements than those of the federal government.

Generally, the cost for LUST cleanup is borne by the owners or operators of the offending site, whether residential or industrial. However, only qualified professional contractors may be tasked with the actual cleanup project. Who is qualified?

Most regulatory bodies consider someone who is educated in the environmental sciences or related fields, such as geology, hydrology, engineering, or physical science, to be qualified for LUST cleanup. The person's credentials must be from a nationally or internationally accredited postsecondary institution. Additionally, a minimum of one year of field experience in handling the specific type of cleanup is necessary.

The remediation process used depends upon the type and extent of contaminants released: petroleum; other fuel oxygenates; lead scavengers. For instance, petroleum may unleash contaminants such as MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). The process implemented will be specifically relative.

The EPA's commitment to the states is to aid them in producing faster, more effective, and less costly cleanup. Toward that end, OUST has developed an expedited site assessment (ESA) process, with an extensive manual, for professionals. New developments in improved, cost-effective procedures for rapid sampling and field analysis of soil gas, soil, and groundwater have made ESAs possible.

ESA highlights:

*Field-generated data and on-site interpretation
*Flexible sampling and analysis
*On-Site senior staff authorized to redirect the assessment in response to new data

Time is the precious difference between the ESA and conventional site characterizations. In the latter, much of the analysis and interpretation is finished off-site at a later date. Aside from possibly taking weeks or months to produce a preliminary report, effective corrective action is delayed. Considering the possible consequences of LUST contamination, expedience is preferable.


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