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Low Compliance Rate Troubles EPA

Release Date: 5/15/1998
Contact Information: Harold Scott
(206) 553-1587

May 15, 1998 - - - - - - - - - 98-25



EPA inspectors next week (May 18-22) will visit about three dozen gasoline service stations and other fueling operations in the Pocatello-Idaho Falls area to see if they're doing all they're supposed to do to keep their underground storage tanks from leaking contaminants into local drinking water supplies.

A chief purpose of the inspections is to verify reports that most gas stations in Idaho are not coming into compliance with a year-end EPA deadline which -- if not met -- may cause station owners and operators to take their tanks out of service.

Federal law requires owners and operators of underground storage tanks to either upgrade or replace older underground storage tanks to protect against corrosion, spills and overfills. If the December 22 deadline is not met, the tanks must be closed.

(The deadline was established by regulations that took effect in 1988. Tank owners and operators were given 10 years to comply. The regulations cover all underground storage tanks installed before December 22, 1988, that are used to store gasoline, diesel fuel or other petroleum products, primarily at service stations and vehicle fleet refueling facilities. Tanks storing certain hazardous chemicals, usually at industrial facilities, must also meet the deadline.)

According to the latest available data, roughly 19 percent of such tanks in Idaho -- or about 900 of the 4800 in the state -- are in compliance with the requirement.

With seven months to go before the deadline, the low compliance rate is troubling to EPA, according to Lauris Davies, manager of the ground water protection unit at EPA's regional headquarters in Seattle.

"Non-compliance with the EPA regulations carries high stakes for Idaho," Davies declared. "First and foremost, in a state where 96 percent of the people get their drinking water from underground sources, it's critically important that ground water be protected.

"Small leaks can cause big problems. A hole the size of a pin, if left unrepaired for a year, will release more than 400 gallons into the environment."

Davies said failure to meet the upcoming December 22 deadline could cause problems for owners and operators of underground storage tanks and inconvenience for Idaho motorists.

"Missing the deadline means penalties that could range up to $11,000 per tank for each day a tank is not in compliance with the EPA regulations," Davies warned. "If everyone waits until the last minute, there's a good chance there won't be enough contractors to go around, with the possible result that tank owners and operators will choose to avoid penalties by taking their tanks out of service.

"There are already considerably fewer gas stations in Idaho than there were 10 years ago. After next December 22, there may be fewer still."

During next week's inspections, the underground tanks will be checked to see if owners and operators have already put in place measures for detecting leaks. Also, owners and operators will be asked to show they are able to bear the financial responsibility for cleaning up damage caused by any leaks or other releases of contaminants to the environment.

Most of the inspections will be clustered in Bannock, Bingham and Bonneville counties, but some will be made in Power, Caribou, Jefferson and Madison counties as well. Sites to be inspected include service stations, large and small, that are both independently-owned and members of chains. Inspections will also be conducted at fueling facilities operated by the federal government.