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Underground Storage Tanks: Finding The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

May 04, 2018
Comments Off on Underground Storage Tanks: Finding The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

When warm weather sets in and the real estate season starts, it is the perfect time to detect and assess underground storage tanks (USTs). Underground storage tanks are typically made of bare steel and were an efficient method of fuel storage used in the 1980s and early 1990s [1]. However, the conditions of soil can corrode the bare steel over time and thus lead to the leakage of content from the tank.

Sellers, buyers and property managers can all benefit from proactive UST management or removal. It helps sellers protect the value of their property by ensuring that they are compliant with the laws and that they have addressed any potential risk of contamination. As per the Technical Standard and Safety Authority (TSSA), all existing USTs must be registered with the TSSA and any unused USTs must be properly removed within 2 years by a licensed contractor [2]. For buyers, ensuring that there are no faulty USTs and/or contamination is a prudent strategy to minimize their risk of buying a “lemon” property.  For ongoing management of the property, it is one of the ways to reduce the risk associated with contamination, and consequently, avoid the loss of property value.

Tell-Tale Signs of a UST

Consultants often find that some property owners or managers are unaware of existing USTs at their property until specific events, such as piping inspections, occur. If a property manager knows whether they have an existing UST sitting in their backyard, they are already ahead of the game!

To determine whether a property may have an unregistered UST, T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. (THEM) suggests the following tips and procedures for managers and owners that are unsure whether a UST is present on their property:

  • Property owners and managers could look for available past records (if any) and/or environmental reports concerning the property for any indications of USTs. Records can be requested from TSSA. Having no records may not always mean that there is no UST on the property.
  • Perform a historical review of the building’s records. USTs are often built for the purpose of building heating. Having a comprehensive history of the heating source and the time that the current HVAC system was installed may indicate whether a UST is present.
  • Perform an exterior building walk around, look for any signs of the following:
  • Unused steel pipes coming out of the ground and going into the building. This could be a transfer pipe of the UST.
  • Broken asphalt may indicate the presence of a large object underground. During seasonal changes, soil temperature may cause the soil to expand and potentially make the UST ‘float’ up in the soil.

THEM has an experienced environmental team that specializes in Underground Storage Tank assessment, removal and remediation in institutional, commercial, residential and industrial sites. Contact THEM for a pre-consultation if the above UST tips were not sufficient to alleviate your doubts about having a UST on your property.

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The economic benefit of addressing UST issues

Proactively addressing UST – related issues promotes safe fuel storage, protects the environment and reduces costs in the long term. This is accomplished by ensuring that a company’s actions to mitigate contamination comply with all environmental requirements. Proactive managers benefit from risk reduction. An unregistered abandoned UST tank is not only a violation of regulations but could also reduce property value when it is discovered during a due diligence ESA.

Time is a crucial component: the sooner an ageing and corroding UST system is upgraded or removed – the greater the likelihood that a costly tank leak can be prevented. Therefore, property owners can reduce their financial risks, exposure to enforcement from environmental regulators, and protect themselves from litigation with adjacent property owners (who would otherwise be affected by a leaking tank).

UST assessments in areas prone to extreme weather provide further opportunities to reduce risk. UST systems can be vulnerable to damage and may leak contaminants during extreme weather events. Before returning a UST to service after a disaster, the owner needs to ensure the system is safe to operate. As a result, USTs usually require pre-emptive actions prior to the extreme weather event and an inspection after the event, which is becoming increasingly more common.

Maintaining or removing USTs can reduce the risk of vapour intrusion, and consequently, help avoid the costs associated with addressing it. Vapour intrusion occurs when contaminants infiltrate from subsurface sources into indoor spaces of a building. This can occur if leftover substances in the UST, such as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel, turn into petroleum hydrocarbons and enter a building as vapours. Preventing such intrusion helps improve safety (e.g. avoid explosions) and possibly adversely affecting the health of building tenants. Well-water and vapour intrusion are probably the most critical threats to human health from UST releases.

The social benefit of addressing UST issues

Maintaining or removing USTs is more than compliance and risk reduction – it is a socially responsible and sustainable thing to do. It can benefit human health, improve ecosystem functions, add to aesthetic values, and make land more productive. Cleanup of UST contamination potentially increases the amount of urban land available for redevelopment, and it can reduce the pressure for development of new land parcels. This can help preserve green spaces and shorten commute times. Taking care of USTs also reduces human exposure to contaminants. It results in reduced health risks to employees as well as nearby residents, who may consume well water or become exposed to vapours. To top it all off, old UST sites such as vacant gas stations with suspect contamination, are often visually unappealing and reduce the desirability or curb appeal of that site or area. Restoring such a site can make the community and businesses around it flourish, earning the company who did it a portion of goodwill.  These are just some of the benefits of taking care of USTs – and it all starts with being proactive in the detection and assessment of USTs.

Bibliography

[1] U. E. P. A. (EPA), Technical Standards and Corrective Action Requirements for Owners and Operators of Underground Storage Tanks (UST)., Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

[2]”TSSA Storage Tank,” Technical Standard Safety Association, 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.tssa.org/en/fuels/storage-tanks.aspx. [Accessed 22 April 2018].

 “Prevention, Cleanup, and Reuse Benefits From the Federal UST Program”, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Center for Environmental Economics, Robin R. Jenkins, Dennis Guignet and Patrick J. Walsh, 2014 [Online] Available: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-01/documents/prevention_cleanup_and_reuse_benefits_from_the_federal_ust_program.pdf [Accessed: 01 May 2018]

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