According to the EPA, there are currently 540,700 active underground storage tanks in the United States. Of this number, 538,000 of these tanks are used to store petroleum, and 2,700 are used for hazardous substances. Half a million is a big number, but it’s significantly less than 2.1 million – the number of active underground storage tanks that were in use in 1984. Since that year, growing awareness and concerns about the negative health and environmental hazards caused by underground storage tank leaks led to sweeping legislation and reform, with regulations and standards continuing to be revised and improved as recently as 2015. If your facility or land utilizes an active underground storage tank, you’re responsible for meeting the EPA’s standards for safe storage, spill prevention, containment, and cleanup. The focus remains on preventing leaks before they even start. Understanding the top causes of underground storage tank leaks can help you stay safe and compliant.
Top Causes of Underground Storage Tank Leaks
Underground storage tank leaks can have serious consequences, including groundwater contamination, damage to surrounding ecosystems, and potential harm to human health. So while the EPA has strict regulations and procedures to follow in the event of an underground storage tank (UST) leak, there has been, in recent years, an even stronger focus on regulations regarding prevention. To prevent UST leaks, it helps to understand why they usually happen in the first place.
One of the most common causes of UST leaks is corrosion of the tank and related piping. Corrosion can occur due to a variety of factors, from the chemical makeup of the stored material to the pH level of the surrounding soil to the presence of water in the tank.
Proper maintenance, regular inspections, and regular repair of the tank and associated equipment is critical to prevent damage from corrosion. It’s also important to choose the appropriate tank and piping materials best suited for the stored material.
Improper Installation or Maintenance
Another common cause of UST leaks is improper installation or maintenance of the tank and associated equipment. This can include issues such as poor workmanship, failure to follow proper installation procedures, and neglecting routine maintenance tasks such as checking for leaks or inspecting the tank for damage. Proper installation requires USTs to be protected from external environmental or job site factors such as impact or vibration.
Physical Impact or External Damage
Damage to the tank from physical impact or other external factors can also cause UST leaks. This can include damage from vehicle traffic, construction activities, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.
Other causes of UST leaks can include the failure of mechanical or electrical components, as well as human error during the handling and transport of the stored materials.
Preventing Underground Storage Tank Leaks
Preventing underground storage tank (UST) leaks before they start is crucial for protecting the environment and human health. Here are some specific steps that facilities or sites can take to prevent UST leaks:
- Conduct regular inspections. Regular inspections of USTs and associated equipment can help identify potential problems before they lead to leaks. This includes visual inspections of the tank and piping, as well as testing for leaks and monitoring for changes in the stored material’s characteristics.
- Implement a routine maintenance program. Proper maintenance is critical for preventing leaks. A routine maintenance program should include tasks such as cleaning and painting the tank, inspecting and tightening connections, and replacing worn or damaged parts.
- Choose the appropriate tank and piping materials. Choosing the right tank and piping materials can help prevent leaks by providing better resistance to corrosion and impact. It’s important to work with experienced professionals to select the appropriate materials for the stored material.
- Properly locate USTs. Properly locating USTs can help prevent leaks caused by physical impact or other external factors. Consider factors such as vehicle traffic, construction activities, and natural disasters when choosing a location for the UST.
- Provide adequate training and oversight. Providing proper training and oversight to personnel involved in the handling and transport of stored materials can help prevent leaks caused by human error.
- Implement spill and leak response plans. In the event of a leak, it’s essential to respond quickly and appropriately to minimize the potential impact. Having a spill and leak response plan in place can help ensure that the right steps are taken in a timely manner.
If you need assistance with installation, inspection, maintenance, disposal, or any other UST compliance tasks, contact Environmental Works today. Environmental Works is a full-service environmental consulting and contracting firm that has expertise in UST compliance. From proper UST installation and maintenance to inspections, walkthroughs, and repairs to containment, cleanup, and removal, EWI can help. To learn more about our services, please give us a call at 417-890-9500 or contact us online.