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Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Underground Storage Tank (UST) Management

There are approximately 600,000 underground storage tanks (USTs) at gas stations and other fueling facilities nationwide that store petroleum or hazardous substances. The greatest potential threat from a leaking UST is contamination of groundwater, the source of drinking water for approximately half of all Americans. EPA, states/territories, and tribes work together to protect the environment and human health by preventing and cleaning up UST leaks. States/territories are the primary implementers of the UST programs within their boundaries and coordinate with EPA. UST programs in Indian country are implemented by EPA.

Underground Storage Tank Activities:
Underground Storage Tank Leak Prevention
Underground Storage Tank Cleanup

Why Community Engagement is Important to Underground Storage Tank (UST) Management:

Although people are generally aware that underground storage tanks exist at gas stations, tanks are – by their very nature – out of sight and often out of mind.  There are approximately 7,000 tank leaks every year, some of which reach groundwater.  This can impact drinking water supplies and, in some circumstances, petroleum vapors can penetrate homes and buildings.

Federal and state laws require that underground storage tank owners properly operate and maintain their tanks at gas stations and other non-marketing fueling facilities.  Inspectors regularly check whether tank owners are complying with federal and state underground storage tank requirements.

Community members may want to know the compliance status of their local gas station, especially if they rely on groundwater for their drinking water.

When leaks do occur, communities can become involved in the cleanup process and impact the selection of cleanup activities. If the site is to be redeveloped or reused, communities may participate in planning and determining reuse options.

We want your feedback about how we involve communities in the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Management activities. Please share your experiences with these processes and your ideas for improvement.

Underground Storage Tank Leak Prevention

States/territories, tribes or EPA can inspect an underground storage tank (UST) facility at any time. The typical process for an inspection includes:
1. Decision to inspect an UST facility
2. Inspection scheduled
3. Inspector meets with the owner/operator to reviews the facility's records, inspect equipment, and provide compliance assistance and follow-up, if necessary
4. Inspector documents the inspection and determines if the facility is in compliance. If a facility is not in compliance a state/territory, tribe or EPA may take enforcement action.

How we involve communities:
Community involvement at UST inspections is not required by law. The inspector typically updates a state/territory's UST database with current facility information and compliance status. Some states/territories make these data available to the public. We know anecdotally that states/territories occasionally involve communities regarding inspection activities, but this is not a typical occurrence.

Links to More Information:
Office of Underground Storage Tanks
Laws, Regulations, And Policies Pertaining To Underground Storage Tanks
Underground Storage Tank Program Directory

Underground Storage Tank Cleanup

States/territories, tribes, or EPA clean up leaks from underground storage tanks, or require the owners or operators to do so. If there is a leak, the owner or operator is required to report it within 24 hours. The typical process to clean up leaks involves the following steps:

  • Study the site to determine the type, quantity and extent of contamination
  • Make a plan to select appropriate steps to clean it up and often a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) is developed, but a CAP is not always required in every situation.
  • Cleanup is then performed and the site is monitored to determine whether the cleanup was successful
  • If the site has met the appropriate cleanup standards set by the state/territory or EPA, then they make a "No Further Action" determination to document that the cleanup is completed.

How we involve communities:
Community involvement at underground storage tank (UST) sites varies and is dependent on many factors including site location, severity of the leak, impact to the drinking water supply, and impact to the local community or the environment. As site conditions warrant, many states/territories involve communities above what is required in the federal regulations. The majority of UST releases involve relatively minor or no groundwater contamination and communities may choose not to be involved in cleanup decisions. Common activities include:

1. Public Notice of CAP
For each leak that requires a CAP, the state/territory, tribe or EPA must provide notice to the public directly affected by the leak and planned corrective action. Note that a CAP is not always required in every situation.
2. Public Inspection of CAP upon Request
The state/territory, tribe or EPA must make sure that information and decisions about the CAP are made available to the public for inspection upon request.
3. Public Meeting on CAP as Needed
Before approving a CAP, the state/territory, tribe or EPA may hold a public meeting to consider comments on the proposed CAP.
4. Termination of CAP
The state/territory, tribe or EPA must give public notice if the approved CAP does not achieve the established cleanup levels in the plan and they are considering terminating the CAP. Typically, a new CAP is then developed and implemented.

Links to More Information:
Office of Underground Storage Tanks
Laws, Regulations, And Policies Pertaining To Underground Storage Tanks
Underground Storage Tank Program Directory

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