Jul 01, 2016

U.S. EPA Removes Underground Tanks on Navajo Nation

Potential leaks from tanks could contaminate local water

New Mexico, Navajo Nation, underground storage tanks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) located and removed two underground storage tanks at the former Smith Lake Trading Post in McKinley County, N.M. The 1,000-gal tanks may have been buried for more than 70 years. 

The trading post burned down in 1995 and was abandoned. The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency identified this site as one of many abandoned gas stations throughout the reservation. The two underground storage tanks at the site are thought to have been taken out of service in 1981. At that time, the tanks were not checked to see if petroleum product remained. This work is part of EPA’s ongoing effort to identify and remove abandoned underground storage tanks that have the potential to contaminate groundwater throughout the Navajo Nation. 

“EPA and the Navajo Nation have achieved the cleanup of over 100 abandoned underground storage tanks, and less than 60 sites remain,” said Jeff Scott, land division director for the Pacific Southwest Region for EPA. “Since 2000, the agency has spent over $10 million on this collaborative effort.”

The excavated tanks were badly rusted and had numerous holes. Petroleum product stored in the tanks could have leaked into the soil and potentially into the subsurface and groundwater and found its way into nearby Smith Lake. Following the excavation, an EPA crew sampled the soil. The level of contamination did not exceed federal or tribal standards. The tanks were permanently decommissioned and taken to a recycling facility for scrap metal.

Approximately 566,000 underground storage tanks in the U.S. store petroleum or hazardous substances. The greatest potential threat from a leaking underground storage tank is contamination of groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans.

Since 1984, EPA has provided more than $293 million in grants and assistance to the Navajo Nation, including grants that support the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, contracts to construct drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for the Navajo people, and direct assistance in cleaning up abandoned uranium mines on the reservation. The Navajo Nation currently manages 17 environmental grants from the EPA.

For more information and photos, visit: www.epa.gov/pacific-southwest-media-center/removing-underground-storage-tank-navajo-nation.