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Leaking Underground Storage Tank Cleanup & Closure

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Decades ago the United States Environmental protection Agency (US EPA) determined that releases from underground storage tanks (USTs) storing petroleum products (primarily gasoline and diesel) were the main cause of groundwater contamination in the United States. Although many measures have been taken to reduce the likelihood of releases from USTs, UST releases remain a primary cause of groundwater contamination. Even properly constructed, maintained and operated UST systems leak causing soil and groundwater contamination. Specific regulations are in place that govern how UST releases need to be investigated and addressed to prevent exposure to contaminants.  

Many responsible parties struggle determining the best approach to cleaning up contamination from a leaking underground storage tank (LUST). There are many options available when addressing LUST contamination to obtain “closure” and there are many “right” ways to address the situation. The “best” way depends on several important factors including the following:

  • Type of substance released
  • Amount released
  • Geologic setting
  • Current and planned property use
  • Surrounding property use
  • Cost and timing

The approach to LUST closure has changed and evolved over the years. LUST cleanup and closure can involve removal actions, in-place cleanup, monitored natural attenuation, enhanced bio-remediation, and/or risk assessment.

Contaminated soil removal is often an important step of the closure process. The most highly contaminated soil will be present near the release area which is referred to as the “source area”. Removal of the highly contaminated soil during tank system removal activities is a very cost effective and timely way to address the source area. Removal of the highly contaminated soil is helpful even in situations where all of the contaminated soil cannot be removed.

Beyond source area removal, many viable options are available to remediate petroleum contaminated soil and groundwater. Petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel will naturally degrade over time if the right environmental conditions and microbes are present. Bioremediation involves relying on naturally occurring organisms to breakdown or remove petroleum constituents from the contaminated area. The natural degradation of petroleum contaminants may occur on its own over time or can be enhanced by the addition of fertilizers, oxygen and other substances depending on the naturally occurring microbes in the area and the site conditions. Bioremediation methods can be used to treat contaminated soil and groundwater in place or by removing the contaminated materials and treating them in a landfarm or treatment cell. 

There are legal considerations in the LUST closure process. The changing regulatory environment, particularly the increased emphasis by regulators on risk-based closure options when addressing LUST corrective action, has increased the need for UST owners, operators and property owners to fully understand and plan accordingly to minimize their long-term liability.

Indiana’s Environmental Legal Action statute does not preclude a person from pursuing an action for a release that was granted an NFA by the regulatory agency.  Subsequent environmental site assessments, particularly when analyzed under current regulatory closure criteria, may bring to light contaminants and environmental concerns (e.g. vapor intrusion) that were not even considered during the regulatory closure of an older LUST incident. 

As a UST owner, operator or property owner you need to understand the long-term implications of opting to leave contamination in-place with an institutional control (“IC”) such as an environmental restrictive covenant.  Source reduction and risk-management will ultimately minimize future liability.  However, all closure strategies, particularly risk-based closures, should be developed with coordination between your environmental consultant and an experienced environmental attorney that fully understands the pitfalls of a poorly implemented or drafted IC, and can assist you in minimizing your potential long-term liability resulting from a LUST release. 

Post Date: 11/16/2017

© August Mack Environmental, Inc.