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Release Date: 02/10/1998
Contact Information: Leo Kay, Press Office, (617) 918-4154

BOSTON - The Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection are reminding owners and operators of commercial underground storage tanks across the state that they now have less than a year left until the Dec. 22 deadline to upgrade, replace, or properly close their underground storage tanks.

Petroleum or hazardous substances from leaking underground storage tanks can contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. States have reported that underground tanks are the most common source of groundwater contamination and that petroleum is the most common contaminant. Leaking underground tanks can present other health and environmental risks, including the potential for fire and explosion.

As of December 1997, the EPA documented 4,873 releases of petroleum products into the environment from underground storage tanks in Massachusetts.

There are 36,588 underground storage tanks in Massachusetts alone, an estimated 11,000 of which need to be upgraded. Over the last six years, owners and operators in the state have closed 15,497 bare steel tanks, which are not protected against corrosion and offer no leak detection.

"Now is the time for getting ahead of the curve,'" said John P. DeVillars, administrator of the EPA's New England office. "For those who think 'out of sight, out of mind,' please think again. If you still have substandard tanks by this time next year, you could be facing substantial fines. So save yourself some aggravation and take care of your tanks now."

"Most tank owners may not realize that they have a potential environmental menace lurking underground," said DEP Commissioner David B. Struhs. "That's why this deadline is so important. Replacing or removing these outdated tanks will help both to prevent pollution, and to ensure that underground contamination that's already occurred is discovered and cleaned up."

"The Department of Fire Services is committed to enforcement of the EPA's Dec. 22 deadline for tank upgrade, replacement or closure," said Stephen D. Coan, state fire marshal. "Our compliance officers and technical staff will work with all tank owners to assist them in meeting the deadline; however, appropriate enforcement actions will be taken against those tank owners who fail to comply with the EPA and DFS tank requirements."

Underground storage tanks that are considered to be in compliance must have as a minimum: 1) Corrosion protection on the tank, 2) non-corrodible piping, 3) catchment basins to contain spills from delivery hoses and 4) overfill protection such as an automatic shutoff device.

Costs to bring a facility into compliance with the 1998 requirements vary widely, depending on the size and nature of a facility, local labor rates, and other factors. As December approaches, these costs could be higher due to increased customer demands for upgrading, replacing, or closing tanks, and finding available contractors to do the work by the deadline may be difficult.

In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature established a financial assistance program that reimburses facility owners for clean up costs in the event of a leak into the environment. This fund ensures that facility owners meet the federal financial responsibility requirements in the event of a leak or spill. This fund has paid out over $65,000,000 since May, 1995 and has helped expedite the clean-up of more than 1,200 contaminated sites in the state. There is also a $2,000,000 set aside for municipalities to remove and /or replace aging unsafe tanks.

Most underground storage tanks subject to these requirements are used to store gasoline, diesel, or other petroleum products at service stations and vehicle fleet refueling facilities. The tanks used to store certain hazardous chemicals -- usually at industrial facilities -- also are subject to the requirements.

The EPA set the deadline 10 years ago to give tank owners plenty of time to comply with the environmental regulation. Under EPA regulations that took effect in December of 1988, tanks installed before that date and not protected against corrosion, spills, and overfills must be upgraded, replaced, or properly closed by Dec. 22, 1998. Other regulatory requirements, including those for release detection, financial responsibility, and reporting and cleanup of leaks will remain in effect.

EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner announced last May that she does not intend to extend the deadline. She noted that an extension would reduce the incentive to comply and would not be fair to those tank owners who have already followed the rules.

"With what we know about environmental damage resulting from leaking underground tanks, and considering the extended grace period we provided a decade ago, there really is no excuse anymore for not having removed antiquated, potentially dangerous tanks," DeVillars said.

The EPA provides a free l6-page booklet called "Don't Wait Until 1998" that clearly explains these regulatory requirements. The EPA also provides a booklet on "Financing Underground Storage Tank Work: Federal and State Assistance Programs." To order the booklets, call 1-800-424-9346.

For more specific information about underground storage tanks in Massachusetts, contact Wayne Delaney, State Fire Marshal's Office, UST Compliance Section at (978) 567-3374, for assistance fund information contact William Alpine at (617) 727-8500 and for cleanup information contact Eric Arvedon of the DEP at (617) 292-5887.