As of March 2022, more than 566,000 underground storage tank (UST) releases were confirmed across the United States. Leakage from USTs often contains hazardous substances like toluene, benzene, ethanol, lead scavengers and methyl tert-butyl ether, which can contaminate soil, groundwater, surface water and air if left untreated. Such toxic releases can also make groundwater unsafe or unpleasant to drink, create potential fire and explosive hazards, and cause long-term health effects.
To protect the health of community members and the environment, federal regulations require states to clean up all UST release sites — except those on tribal lands, for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bears responsibility. The extent of contamination helps determine costs and cleanup methods for each site. Remediation is often easier and less expensive at sites where groundwater remains unaffected and pollution is isolated to the soil.
In contrast, sites with severe groundwater contamination may require extensive remediation efforts that cost millions of dollars and years of cleanup. Below, we discuss some underground storage tank remediation techniques for cleaning up soil and groundwater and why you need an environmental expert to help ensure successful remediation project outcomes.
The chosen UST remediation techniques depend on several factors, including the intended end-use of contaminated property and the client's timeline. Site conditions, like the size of the affected area, soil type (permeability and porosity of material) and hydraulic conductivity of groundwater, also determine the efficacy and feasibility of remediation techniques. While UST settings can differ profoundly, some common underground storage tank remediation techniques for soil and groundwater include:
Successful remediation of a UST release site is determined by whether the end goal for the property has been achieved. Municipalities and developers should also consider adopting remediation techniques ike the EPA's Best Management Practices to minimize the environmental footprint of such cleanups and encourage green remediation of UST sites.
The EPA's Best Management Practices provide guidelines for consultants and government agencies to evaluate and minimize the environmental impact of remediation. The selection and implementation of Best Management Practices are based on site-specific conditions and project requirements. In terms of cost-effectiveness, there is usually overlap between EPA-recommended Best Management Practices and common underground storage tank remediation strategies. Following remediation, best practices include complying with the conditions of a No Further Remediation letter (if received) and minimizing effects on human health and safety (if applicable).
The best practice for municipalities and developers is partnering with an environmental consultant on-site during UST removal to collect soil and groundwater samples. This allows them to develop the most effective remediation strategy, reduce costs and help ensure the best project outcomes.
An environmental consultant can best determine when a site requires underground storage tank remediation and can guide you through the process. The consultants at Fehr Graham work closely with state EPA authorities in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and other states on several Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) projects. Our team of environmental professionals provides early guidance to ensure all clients comply with EPA reporting and sampling requirements in UST sites. We also help community leaders secure local, state and federal funding to help safely remove USTs and successfully remediate contaminated sites.