EPA, Navajo EPA to Inspect, Cite Facilities for Underground Storage Tank Violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency will inspect more than 50 underground storage tank sites this summer.

Federal and tribal environmental regulators will issue field citations ranging from $300 to $5,000 to facilities violating federal underground storage tank regulations. Inspections begin July 19.

The most common problem found during inspections is the failure to properly maintain and operate leak prevention and detection equipment. Facilities also frequently fail to provide current paperwork for annual testing of tanks and piping systems, or fail to provide proof of financial liability insurance.

"Leak prevention is critical because unseen leaks caused by corrosion, overfills or other spills can pollute precious ground water supplies-- a limited resource on the Navajo Nation," said Jeff Scott, the EPA's Waste Management Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "A hole the size of a pinhead can release 400 gallons of fuel in a year's time, enough to foul millions of gallons of fresh water."

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Underground Storage Tank and Leaking Underground Storage Tank program conducted an inventory in 2003 and discovered there was a 2% compliance rate by operations using gas tanks.

"It is imperative we increase our compliance rate because there is already extensive contamination by leaking underground storage tanks of shallow groundwater in some communities," said Henry Haven, geologist with the program. "Water is a precious resource and we are prepared to issue fines."

The Navajo EPA will enforce provisions of its regulations, which include administrative fines and the authority to shut down a facility.

Compliance with leak prevention and leak detection requirements help ensure petroleum releases from underground storage tanks occur less frequently and that facilities are properly alerted when releases do occur. The EPA and the NNEPA report improved operating conditions at storage tank sites as a result of the joint inspections.

To prevent releases, federal law required all regulated underground storage tanks to have spill and overfill equipment, and corrosion protection in place by Dec. 22, 1998. Releases that are detected quickly can be cleaned up at far less expense than releases that go undetected for long periods of time.


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