If your business uses underground tanks to store petroleum fuels or other hazardous products, you need to remember that you face unique potential liabilities. Limit those liabilities by taking action to prevent storage tank leaks. And remember: all storage tanks for hazardous materials must meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. The deadline for existing underground storage tanks to meet EPA standards was December 1998.
Take stock of what you've got! The American Insurance Services Group, Inc. notes that your first line of defense is to take stock of what you store underground.
Measure the amount of product stored in each tank on a daily basis. Reconcile your sales and receipts to the amount of the product in the tank each day. Your physical and written inventories commonly will have small discrepancies. But sudden or gradual shortages or overages in product compared to what your written records indicate may reveal signs of real trouble.
Also monitor the water level in the bottom of tanks since changes in water levels could indicate a leak. Don't panic if the water level has changed. It may simply indicate that gauges or fill caps are loose. Be sure to check those areas.
Don't hesitate: investigate! Be aware of these signs of potential tank leakage:
- An unexpected increase of water in the tank
- Hesitation or rattling sounds and erratic product delivery when using a suction pump.
- Meter spins without delivery of product when using a submerged or remote pump.
- Product odor in nearby soil, sewers or basements.
- Contamination of drinking water in the area.
- Dead vegetation around the tank.
If you suspect a leak, recheck your inventory records and inspect any of the equipment that is accessible. That includes pumps, valves and hoses. If you find a leak, have only qualified maintenance professionals perform repairs. Calibrate any metered dispensers, and have qualified personnel test piping hydrostatically or by another acceptable test method.
If you can't rule out the possibility of a leak, observe required federal, state and/or local regulations. Contact appropriate officials. Cease using any tank that has a confirmed leak, and arrange to empty it as soon as possible. Remove the tank from the ground immediately.
The EPA, state and local environmental authorities, local fire officials, petroleum industry trade associations, state government offices and other professionals can provide important information to you.
Important reminder. Underground tank storage users need to prepare a thorough crisis plan. Talk to tank testing companies, cleanup firms, contractors, fire department representatives, other regulatory officials and your insurance company about emergency response arrangements.
Your next step is to put an emergency plan in writing. Post critical elements of the plan where employees can view them. The communication should outline what employees must do if a tank leak occurs. Train employees as necessary. You might even consider staging emergency drills.