In the past few weeks we have looked at how underground storage tanks, particularly older tanks belonging to gas stations, can and often do compromise the health of the surrounding environment and everything in it, including humans. The Environmental Protection Agency has logged more than 620,000 active storage tanks throughout the United States. Of those tanks, some 480,000 tanks have or have had “confirmed releases.” The problem is so extensive that the EPA established the Office of Underground Storage Tanks to confront it. Since its founding 25 years ago, the EPA’s UST office has removed 1.7 million substandard tanks and completed 377,019 cleanups. Thousands of tanks continue to leak.Underground tanks that leak fuel, fuel additives, and other toxic chemicals are a major threat to health and well being of our land and ourselves, but they’re not the only problem. Gas stations are also a huge source of the pollution that emanates from gasoline tanks in vapor form and car exhaust.
Modern gas pumps are fitted with vapor-recovery boots on their nozzles, which help control the amount of vaporized fuel that leaks into the air. A similar device recovers vapors that are released when tankers fill a station’s underground storage tanks. However, faulty recovery devices allow toxic chemicals such as hydrocarbon fumes and benzene to enter the air in substantial amounts.
These airborne chemicals have been linked definitively to a slew of respiratory ailments and cancer by the National Institutes of Health. Not surprisingly, California leads the rest of the country in adopting standards that exceed the federal level. Today the state begins implementing tougher vapor recovery regulations, which require gas stations to equip their nozzles with better vapor recovery devices.
Gas stations with attached auto repair shops are doubly dangerous. Spilled or leaking antifreeze, lead products, and other solvents can contaminate the surrounding air, soil and water over time. The brakes and clutches of certain vehicles contain asbestos, which can be released into the atmosphere. As long as motor vehicles rely on these hazardous substances to run, humans will always be exposed. The key to minimizing the effects of exposure is to support better environmental regulations. Pressuring auto manufacturers and oil companies to develop alternative ways to fuel up is another strategy for a cleaner, safer future.