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Deadline looms for upgrading leaky USTs

Posted online

by Bill Ford

for the Business Journal

In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency set forth a 10-year schedule of regulations for underground storage tank owners to correct the problem of abandoned and leaking underground storage tanks.

By Dec. 22, 1998, all petroleum underground storage tanks must comply with state and federal tank "upgrade requirements." If tank owners do not comply with the December deadline, they may be subject to thousands of dollars in fines and lose certain insurance benefits.

At one time, it seemed like nearly every city street corner had a gas station. Almost all of those gas stations relied on underground storage tanks to hold gasoline and other petroleum products.

Given the lengthy history of the automobile and, with it, the gas station those underground storage tanks have grown old and, in many cases, have sprung leaks, releasing petroleum products into the soil and groundwater.

In response to these leaking underground storage tanks, the EPA in 1988 adopted regulations that impose technical standards and corrective action requirements on owners and operators of underground storage tanks.

Environmental professionals even tried to add a little sex appeal to these regulations by referring to leaking underground storage tanks with the acronym LUST.

The 1988 regulations. The 1988 regulations first set out requirements for new, rather than existing, underground storage tanks to be installed after that date to prevent spills and leaks.

These strict construction requirements include tank corrosion protection, leak detection, as well as spill and overflow protection. The regulations also imposed:

?Operational controls and testing requirements for all tanks;

?Removal of large numbers of unused or abandoned underground storage tanks;

?Reporting and clean-up of certain spills or releases of petroleum from existing tanks;

?Proof of financial responsibility from tank owners or operators to ensure that tank owners or operators can financially respond to any contamination caused by their tanks;

?When tanks are removed, clean-up when significant levels of contamination have occurred.

Insurance for tank owners. Various states, Missouri included, have set up underground storage tank insurance funds which are designed to provide insurance coverage for clean-ups caused by leaking underground storage tanks.

These state funds generally are, or act like, an insurance policy, and pay all approved costs after a deductible amount is exceeded.

Current and former tank owners in Missouri should have registered their tanks with the Underground Storage Tank Insurance Fund by the end of 1997 in order to be eligible for coverage under Missouri's Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund.

Another regulatory deadline. New regulations require an upgrade of existing tanks installed before 1988. These "upgrade requirements" mandate that by Dec. 22, 1998, older tanks still in use must meet strict technical construction standards, similar to those already mandated for new tanks.

The "upgrade requirements" force underground storage tanks to have spill protection, overfill protection and corrosion protection. Spill protection includes things like catch basins to contain spills caused by filling and delivery hoses.

Overfill protection includes things like automatic shut-off devices, alarms or protective valves. Corrosion protection involves cathodic protection systems or interior linings to reduce corrosion of the tanks.

These upgrade requirements apply across the entire country and are based on both federal and state regulations. Underground storage tanks that do not meet the upgrade requirements by this date must either be removed or meet even more stringent new tank performance standards.

Underground storage tank owners who continue to operate the tanks out of compliance after Dec. 22, 1998, may be subject to fines of tens of thousands of dollars per day for each noncompliant tank.

Additionally, operators who do not comply may lose their eligibility for coverage under state insurance funds and other private insurance policies.

(Bill Ford is an attorney for Lathrop & Gage LC. He practices environmental law, as well as general and products liability litigation.)

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