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Frequent Questions About Underground Storage Tanks


EPA is providing answers to the following questions. These questions and answers are not intended to be a substitute for the written underground storage tank regulations. For a complete description of the regulations, refer to the Code of Federal Regulations, 40 CFR Part 280. In addition, you can find additional answers to technical questions in the UST Technical Compendium. Also, Program Facts presents a brief overview about the UST program and some basic facts that are updated periodically.

Regional Questions and Answers:


Q. I am thinking about buying a property that may have or had USTs, who can assist me?

A. The best source of information regarding UST’s is the respective state UST program where the property is located. Each state UST Program maintains a UST database regarding UST notification, corrective action and enforcement activities. Locate your state in our Region 4 EPA & State Contacts page.

Q. I want to store and sell ethanol blended fuel (E-10, E-15, E-85, etc.) and/or biodiesel, is there anything special I need to do?

A. All blended or alternative fuels are regulated, and need to be placed in UST systems that have compatible components, e.g., tanks, piping valves, gaskets, dispensers, etc., for whatever fuel is to be stored. EPA has issued a general compatibility guidance for the storage of alternative fuels Biofuel Compatibility Guidance, but each state should be consulted for their specific compatibility requirements Region 4 EPA & State Contacts page.

Q. Are propane tanks regulated?

A. Propane tanks have been excluded from UST regulation by the EPA. However, you should check with the State Fire Marshall’s Office or local building inspector for regulations in your area. Regulations for propane tanks can generally be found under the National Fire Protection Association.

Q. Are tanks situated above ground regulated?

A. Aboveground Storage Tanks (ASTs) are not regulated by the UST program, but they may be regulated under the SPCC, Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures, regulations (SPCC). The current EPA Region 4 SPCC Coordinator is Ted Walden. At present, Florida is the only Region 4 state that regulates ASTs.

Q. Who Can Answer Questions About UST Systems?

A. The UST program is a delegated program.  Each of the Region 4 states implement a UST program and can answer specific questions about facilities and regulations.

Q. Are Heating Oil Tanks Regulated?

A. No, not by EPA.  North Carolina does have a program that may assist in the cleanup of contamination resulting from a home heating oil tank.

Q. How are pre-1974 UST sites managed?

A. Owners and operators of UST systems that were in the ground on or before May 8, 1986, unless taken out of operation on or before January 1, 1974, are required to notify the designated state or local UST program. When directed by the implementing agency (state UST program), the owner or operator of an UST system closed before December 29, 1988, must assess the excavation zone and close the UST system in accordance with state regulations if releases from the UST may, in the judgement of the state, pose a current or potential threat to human health and the environment.

Q. Do hired consultants have to be approved by the federal and state regulatory agencies?

A. Some states do require UST and cleanup contractors to be licensed or approved before any work can be conducted. Regardless, it is a good practice for owners and operators to check with their states on the contractor requirements and performance history.

Q. Do all states have a petroleum fund?

A. All Region 4 states currently maintain a petroleum contamination cleanup fund. Some funds are voluntary and others are open to all eligible owners and operators of UST systems. At present, the funds serve as a full or partial financial responsibility (FR) mechanism. Florida no longer implements a petroleum fund as a mechanism for FR. All UST owners and/or operators must maintain financial responsibility for taking corrective action (contamination cleanup) and for compensating third parties for bodily injury and property damage caused by accidental releases arising from the operation of an UST system.

Q. What is the eligibility criteria to use the state petroleum funds?

A. Each state has different requirements for eligibility in a state cleanup fund. Some funds are voluntary and others are available to most UST owners and operators.

General:

Q. What Is An Underground Storage Tank (UST) System?

A. An underground storage tank (UST) system is a tank (or a combination of tanks) and connected piping having at least 10 percent of their combined volume underground. The tank system includes the tank, underground connected piping, underground ancillary equipment, and any containment system. The federal UST regulations apply only to underground tanks and piping storing either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

Q. Why Are UST Systems Regulated?

A. As of March 2012, 504,339 releases have been reported from UST systems. For state-by-state data (reported semi-annually) such as the number of active and closed tanks, releases reported, cleanups initiated and completed, inspections, and facilities in compliance with UST requirements, go to the UST Performance Measures.

These releases have been caused by leaks, spills, and overfills from UST systems. These releases can threaten human safety and health as well as the environment because UST systems contain hazardous and toxic chemicals. Fumes and vapors can travel beneath the ground and collect in areas such as basements, utility vaults, and parking garages where they can pose a serious threat of explosion, fire, and asphyxiation or other adverse health effects.

Gasoline, leaking from service stations, is one of the most common sources of groundwater pollution. Because approximately one-half of the population of the United States relies on groundwater as their source of drinking water, groundwater pollution is a serious problem. Many municipal and private wells have been shut down as the result of contamination caused by releases from UST systems.

Preventing and cleaning up releases are the two primary goals of the programs that regulate USTs. Cleaning up petroleum releases is difficult and usually expensive; it is easier and less costly to prevent releases before they happen. The old adage of "an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure" is particularly relevant to UST systems.

Q. What Are The Requirements For Hazardous Substance USTs?

A. Underground storage tank (UST) systems that store substances identified as being hazardous under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) are subject to the same requirements as petroleum UST systems except that hazardous substance tanks must have secondary containment. Hazardous wastes are already regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and therefore are not covered by the UST regulations. Hazardous substance USTs in Tennessee are regulated by EPA, Region 4. All other Region 4 states regulate their own hazardous substance USTs.

Prevention:

If you have questions regarding any of the topics listed below, you should contact the state UST Program where the USTs will be located and operated.

Cleanup:

If you have questions regarding any of the topics listed below, you should contact the state UST Program where the leaking USTs are located and operated.

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For information about the contents of this page please contact Linda Williams


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