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Underground Storage Tank Regulations Set to Change

By Alexander Gordon of Aon Risk Solutions

In the alleyway of a newly opened retail superstore, an abandoned steel tank slowly weeps hazardous dry cleaning solvents into the soil. Meanwhile, at a nearby district hospital an emergency generator tank leaks after being overfilled —toxic vapors slowly forcing their way towards the trauma center. Since the EPA first began regulating Underground Storage Tanks (USTs), over 507,000 individual releases have been recorded across the United States. Today some 7,000 new releases are discovered each year.

Often used to store hazardous materials like petroleum and industrial solvents, USTs have been a target of environmental policy for decades. In 1988 the EPA issued its first regulations for Underground Storage Tanks (UST), a body of rules that set minimum standards for new tanks and required owners and operators of existing tanks to upgrade, replace, or close them. Implemented under the authority of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), the initial rules sought to reduce the likelihood of releases from USTs, detect leaks and spills when they do occur, and secure a prompt cleanup. While over the past 25 years, the number of regulated tanks in the United States has been dramatically reduced, the environmental risks associated with leaking USTs continues to occupy the attention of regulators at the EPA. For the first time ever, the EPA recently proposed changes to its UST regulations, which once enacted, will establish stricter standards on operation and maintenance of USTs, and update regulations to current technology and practices.

While existing regulation has greatly reduced the total number of UST releases nationwide, according to the EPA, years of data on the sources and causes of UST-related pollution events highlight the need for greater care in operating and maintain UST systems. As detailed below, the EPA’s proposal most notably adds new requirements for operator training, secondary containment measures, increased testing procedures for equipment, and an increase in federal supervision over state UST programs.

Proposed Revisions to Underground Storage Tank Regulations include:

  • Establishing federal requirement for operator training based on three categories of operators:
    • Class A -individuals who are primarily responsible for operating and maintaining a UST system
    • Class B -individuals who are in change of carrying out in field aspects of a UST system operation and maintenance
    • Class C -individuals who control and monitor the dispensing and sale of fuel from a UST system and who are responsible for the immediate response to releases
  • Establish federal requirements for a release prevention and release detection system, also known as secondary containment. These systems must have an inner and outer barrier with interstitial space that is monitored for leaks.
  • Add operation and maintenance requirements:
    • Walkthrough inspections
    • Spill prevention equipment tests
    • Overfill prevention equipment tests o Interstitial integrity tests
    • Operability tests for release detection methods
  • Improve release and detection program implementation:
    • Walkthrough inspections
    • Require testing after repairs to spill and overfill prevention equipment, and interstices
    • Notification requirement of ownership change
    • Eliminate groundwater and vapor monitoring as release detection methods
    • Reference newer technologies, including explicitly adding statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR) and continuous in-tank leak detection (CITLD) as release detection methods
  • Revise state program approval (40 CFR Part 281) to be consistent with the above revisions

As the rules above are quickly phased into practice over the next year and beyond, we at Aon look forward to guiding our clients through the new constellation of regulation, compliance, and environmental risk exposure produced by the EPA’s major revisions of their Underground Storage Tank policy.