United States
              Environmental Protection
       Solid Waste and Emergency
       (OS-420 WF)
          EPA 510-F-93-005
          April 1993
               UST  Program  Facts
              Leaking   Underground
              Storage   Tank Cleanup
              Why tanks leak

              Until the 1980s the design, installation, and
              operation of most underground storage tank
              (UST) systems made them prone to leaks,
              spills and overfills. Steel tanks and piping
              corroded. Poor installation and overfilling
              caused many other releases.
National Corrective Action Activity
  DEC. 1989
JUNE 1992
How leaks were detected in the past

Many leaks went undetected until
drinking water wells were contaminated or
fumes filled a basement, posing serious
risks to human health, safety, and the

The challenge to respond to
leaking USTs quickly

Local, state, and federal governments
want owners and operators to prevent new
releases by replacing old, unsafe tanks
with more protective equipment As of
October 1, 1992 nearly 184,000 releases
have been confirmed, and the number of
confirmed releases is expected to grow at
a rate of about 50,000 sites per year until
it levels off at a total of about 320,000

Risks from UST releases

About 90 percent of regulated USTs hold
petroleum. When petroleum and similar
products leak from an UST or its piping
they contaminate the soil  around and
below the tanks:

    Liquids may travel downward
     through soil to pollute
     groundwater, a source of drinking
     water for about half of all

     Vapors  from leaking volatile
     liquids can also accumulate in
     basements, sewers and utility

       conduits, sometimes causing fires
       and explosions.

      Breathing these vapors can pose a
       long-term health threat because they
       may contain harmful substances
       such as benzene, a carcinogen.

Cleanups are needed to protect human health
and safety and to preserve drinking water

Development of the cleanup program

In 1984 and again in  1986 Congress passed
UST legislation that now comprises Subtitle
1 of the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act.  The law directed EPA to
establish programs that would prevent new
releases and help to clean up old ones.  Part
of this job was  writing regulations that
spelled out how tank  owners and operators
should respond  to a release, including:

      reporting a release,

      removing its source,

      mitigating fire and safety hazards,

      investigating the extent of  the leak,

      cleaning up soil and groundwatcr as
       needed  to protect human health  and
       the environment.

EPA developed these regulations, and the
program as a whole, to be flexible, to foster
innovation, and to be implemented from the
start by state and local agencies. Every state
and many local governments now  have
active UST cleanup programs.
Challenges of a growing cleanup

Tank owners and operators, and
sometimes government agencies, have
completed about 55,000 corrective actions
(see illustration).  However, releases have
been reported at a rate of almost 1,000
per week over the last two years - over
three times faster than they have been
cleaned up.

Cleanup program staff have to oversee
increasing caseloads of active cleanups,
usually conducted by cooperative tank
owners, their contractors, and consultants.
At the  same time, they face increasing
backlogs of sites awaiting a response and
additional demands for guidance and

The increase has adverse impacts on the
environment, and the economy, as well as
the programs themselves:

        Sites with releases in  the planning
        stages  of corrective action and
        those awaiting a response
        gradually become more difficult
        and costly to clean up.

        Delays in the cleanup process
        disrupt businesses and make
        cleanups less affordable for many
        owners, particularly small
        businesses and  small communities.

        Regulators have difficulty
        performing the inspections,
        approving the plans, and
        reviewing the reports  they usually
        use to  follow progress at sites.

Streamlining and new technologies

One of EPA's top priorities in the tank
program is to help state and local
governments make cleanups faster,
cheaper, and more effective.  As a part of
this effort, EPA staff and consultants
encourage states to streamline cleanup
oversight processes:

       They show state managers and
       staff how to  use flowcharts and
       performance indicators to
       document and analyze their

       They teach Total Quality
       Management techniques to help
       identify delays and other
       opportunities for improvement.

  -    They support state managers'  and
       staff's efforts to: develop
       guidance materials; design
       process changes to  reduce delays
       and paperwork; provide needed
       training; host "consultants days"
       where better communication with
       those who plan and perform
       cleanups improves the quality of
       their work; and make other

The main objective of streamlining
projects is broader, however: to
motivate, enable, and assist states to
continue making many other
improvements on their own.

EPA is also working to promote the use
of creative site assessment and cleanup
technologies in cooperative efforts with
contractors, consultants, tank owners,  and
states.  Even though some promising
techniques - such as field measurement
methods, air sparging, and soil vapor
extraction - have proven advantageous in
field applications, they are not yet widely
used across the country.  EPA is using a
variety of research, training,
demonstration, and outreach projects to
increase the acceptance and use of
technologies that can help make cleanups
faster, less costly, or more  effective.

Signs of progress

By streamlining cleanup oversight processes
and promoting wider use of more effective
technologies for site assessment and cleanup,
leading states have begun making
improvements, some of them dramatic:

      With EPA's support, leading states
       have already cut delays in
       permitting, site assessment,
       corrective action, and reimbursement

      States are providing better guidance
       to consultants and contractors, and
       are  improving the quality of needed
       plans and reports, speeding  up the
       work, and cutting paperwork costs.

      A few programs are making
       promising revisions to their
       corrective action processes that
       allow simple cleanups at low-risk
       sites to proceed more quickly with
       better guidance and reduced

      As training and demonstration
       projects progress, technologies such
       as field measurement techniques,
       soil vapor extraction, and
       bioremediation arc  gaining wider
       acceptance in some states.

These early successes have confirmed that
EPA's approach to addressing the cleanup
backlog can work, but they do not guarantee
success. That will take time and the
sustained commitment of more UST
programs and other stakeholders in the
cleanup process, from tank owners and
consultants to managers of other programs,
such as state assurance funds and those
permitting cleanups. Success will also
require that all stakeholders remain open to
change, take some risks, and work
cooperatively.  EPA is committed to support
these efforts and to  help meet the challenges
of UST cleanups.
Leaking Underground Storage Tank Cleanup is
one in a series of fact sheets about underground
storage tanks (USTs) and leaking USfs.  The
series is designed to help EPA, other federal
officials, and state authorities answer the most
frequently asked questions about USTs with
consistent, accurate information in language the
layperson can understand.  Keep the fact sheets
handy as a resource.  This fact sheet addresses
federal regulations.  You may need to refer to
applicable state or  local regulations, as well.
For more information on UST publications, call
the RCRAISuperfund Hotline at 800 424-9346.