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Buffalo Settles with EPA on Underground Tanks; With EPA's Help, City Has Addressed Problems at All 51 City Tanks

Release Date: 03/10/2000
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(#00038) New York, N.Y. -- The city of Buffalo, New York has settled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on charges that it did not properly manage an underground storage tank (UST) at the Buffalo Fire Department facility at 1792 Seneca Street. Following EPA's identification of problems with the tank, the city identified and upgraded, shut down or otherwise addressed the 50 other tanks it owned at a cost of approximately $2.1 million. In addition, Buffalo will pay a $49,000 penalty, and has formally agreed to comply with all underground storage tank requirements in the future.

"Underground storage tanks cannot simply be left in the ground and forgotten; leaks and spills from USTs are the number-one source of groundwater contamination in the country," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. "We are pleased, however, that after EPA notified Buffalo of its violations, the city acted quickly and cooperatively to address its tank problems. We will continue to work with Buffalo to ensure its tanks are sound, managed properly and tested regularly."

An EPA inspection of Fire Department Ladder Company 10 - Engine Company 25 on July 8, 1998 revealed that one of the Company's three 550-gallon capacity USTs, which the company used to fuel fire engines, was not tested for leaks a violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the law that governs UST management. The tank was also not upgraded to meet stricter EPA safety standards by a December 22, 1998 deadline another RCRA violation prompting EPA to question whether the other tanks owned by the city had been upgraded. EPA made inquiries to Buffalo about the number, location and status of all other city-owned tanks, and determined, based on the city's responses, that Buffalo did not know where all of its other USTs were or what condition they were in. EPA issued a formal complaint in April 1999 about the tank at Ladder Company 10-Engine Company 25 charging both that it had not been tested for leaks from July 1997 to July 1998, and that the city had not properly responded to EPA requests for information.

Underground storage tanks range in capacity from a few hundred to 50,000 or more gallons, and are used to store gasoline, heating oil and other fuels, waste oil and hazardous substances at gas stations, marinas, government facilities and large industrial sites. Over 30,000 leaks and spills from USTs are reported nationally every year. A spill of one gallon of gasoline can render one million gallons of water undrinkable. When leaks from USTs contaminate the soil around the tanks, unhealthy gasoline vapors may settle into the basements of private homes and apartment buildings. Since USTs are buried several feet underground, spills and releases into the soil and into the groundwater table are often invisible to people standing at ground level. To insure that releases are quickly detected, RCRA requires all owners and operators to provide a method of release detection for each UST that can identify releases from any portion of the tank and connected underground piping. RCRA also requires owners and operators to keep thorough records of release detection activities and of any work done on the tanks.

In the last two years, Buffalo has identified 50 other city tanks, and discovered that 33 of them had released petroleum product over the years and contaminated the soil around them. EPA worked closely with and provided technical assistance to Buffalo in its efforts to close and/or upgrade its tanks, and guided the city as it worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to remove any contaminated soil around the tanks that leaked. Buffalo has permanently closed 42 of the 51 USTs, upgraded two of the tanks to meet federal safety standards, and is in the process of closing seven remaining tanks.

In Buffalo's final agreement with EPA, the city accepted a $49,000 penalty, and agreed to close the seven remaining USTs by October 1, 2000.