Unless you live in a remote, rural region of the United States, chances are you live within a few feet of an underground storage tank (UST). These tanks, which by definition have at least 10% of their volume underground, typically store fuel and other hazardous – and highly corrosive – liquids. Older tanks were made without the benefits of corrosion-resistant polymers or double containment standards, so they can easily leak. In fact, they usually do.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that there are 623,319 USTs in the United States and its territories. Of those USTs, there have been 479,817 “confirmed releases” or leaks and 377,019 completed cleanups. That leaves a national total of 102,798 known leaking tanks awaiting removal and cleanup.
Even the slowest dripping tanks can pollute millions of gallons of groundwater. It takes just one gallon of fuel to contaminate one million gallons of water. It doesn’t matter whether you get your water from a municipal reservoir or a well on your property; your water supply could be at risk of contamination by leaking USTs in your area.
Fortunately, there are some telltale signs that an underground tank may be leaking. Business owners with USTs and individuals alike should be aware of these signals. Early detection can help prevent major health and environmental problems.
- You or other people smell escaped product or see anything like an oily sheen on water near the facility
- Your neighbors complain of vapors in their basements or about water that tastes or smells like petroleum.
- Someone reports unusual operating conditions at your facility, such as erratic behavior of the dispensing pump.
- You receive or generate results from leak detection monitoring and testing that indicate a leak.
If you suspect that a UST is leaking, you should immediately notify the appropriate agency for your state or region. Tanks located in Indian Country should be reported to the EPA Regional UST program office.