UST compliance checklist

On Dec. 22, 1998, new requirements under 40 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 280 and 281 for leak detection, spill and overfill protection and corrosion protection for underground storage tanks (USTs) went into effect. However, many USTs still do not meet the new requirements. Owners or operators who did not close, upgrade or replace substandard USTs can be cited for non-compliance as the result of official UST inspections for violations and be subject to severe penalties. In a memo dated May 14, 1997, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner emphatically stated that the 1998 deadline would not be extended, for to do so would not be fair to those managing USTs in compliance with the new requirements. This memo represents, at least officially, the agency's seriousness about enforcing the tougher regulations. The state environmental regulatory agencies and EPA are committed to an enforcement strategy that will identify non-compliant USTs and will issue penalties to UST owners that can exceed $11,000 per day. The reason for the governmental agencies' strict approach is the magnitude of the problem of non-compliant USTs. According to recent EPA estimates, about 900,000 active federally regulated USTs are buried at more than 300,000 sites nationwide. As of this year, more than 370,000 confirmed releases from leaking USTs have been reported and about half of these releases impacted groundwater. Although the average cleanup cost per site is $125,000, groundwater cleanup at some sites exceeds $1 million. After the 1998 deadline, UST owners had three options. They could close the tank, upgrade it or replace it. Doing nothing and hoping that the enforcement officers would not notice is of course another option but one that can end up biting the non-compliant UST owner.

Checking out your options

EPA has compiled a basic checklist for evaluating USTs that is available on its Web site at UST owners can use the checklist to determine how closely they comply with the federal UST regulations set out in 40 Code of Federal Regulations Part 280. However, tank owners must also check out the legal requirements of their state and local environmental agencies to see if they have additional or different requirements for their USTs. Such information is helpful in letting UST owners gain a basic understanding of their legal obligations. However, UST owners need to be aware that only an official site inspection can confirm their actual compliance status and reveal potential violations and penalty fees. By understanding the compliance status of their USTs, owners can then determine whether they should close, upgrade or replace the tanks.

Tank closure

Tank closure is one way to help protect human health and the environment, particularly groundwater, from the threats posed by many older USTs. An UST may be closed temporarily or permanently. Temporary closure. An UST may be closed for up to 12 months by following these requirements for temporary closure:
  • An UST owner should continue to monitor for leaks by maintaining the UST's leak detection, unless the UST is empty. Corrosion protection systems should also be monitored and maintained. If a release is discovered, quickly stop the release, notify the regulatory authority and take appropriate action to clean up the site.
  • If the UST remains temporarily closed for more than three months, leave vent lines open, but cap and secure all other lines, pumps, manways and ancillary equipment.
  • After 12 months of temporary closure, there are three options:
  • Permanently close the UST if it doesn't meet the applicable requirements for new or upgraded USTs (except for spill and overfill);
  • Ask the regulatory authority for an extension beyond 12 months, if an assessment determines contamination is not present at the site; or
  • The UST can remain temporarily closed without needing an extension granted by the regulatory authority if the UST meets the applicable requirements for new or upgraded USTs (except for spill and overfill) and the requirements noted above for temporary closure.
  • Permanent closure. If the UST is permanently closed, the following requirements must be met:
  • Notify the regulatory authority at least 30 days before the UST's closure;
  • Determine if contamination from the UST is present in the surrounding environment. If there is contamination, corrective action may be needed. Keep a record of the actions determining contamination at the site or at least three years, or mail this record to the appropriate regulatory authority; and
  • Either remove the UST from the ground or leave it in the ground. In both cases, the tank must be emptied and cleaned by removing all liquids, dangerous vapor levels and accumulated sludge. These potentially very hazardous actions need to be carefully carried out by trained professionals who follow standard safety practices. If the UST is left in the ground, it should be filled with a harmless, chemically inactive solid, such as sand.
  • Upgrading tanks

    UST system upgrading consists of adding corrosion protection and installing devices to protect against spills and overfills. Without the protection provided by upgrading, the UST is much more likely to leak, damage the environment, open the owner to third-party lawsuits and need costly cleanups. Corrosion protection. Federal rules require corrosion protection for UST systems because unprotected steel USTs and piping corrode and release product through corrosion holes. Existing steel tanks must be upgraded to meet requirements according to a code of practice developed by a nationally recognized organization or independent testing laboratory. There are three options for upgrading existing steel USTs. The UST owner or operator must install an interior lining, cathodic protection or an internal lining combined with cathodic protection. Prior to adding cathodic protection, the integrity of the UST must be ensured using one of the following methods:
  • The UST is internally inspected and assessed to ensure that the tank is structurally sound and free of corrosion or holes;
  • Monthly monitoring releases in an UST that has been installed for less than 10 years;
  • Two tightness tests assessing for corrosion holes — the first occurs prior to adding cathodic protection and the second occurs three to six months following the first operation of cathodic protection — in an UST that has been installed for less than 10 years; and
  • An alternative integrity assessment. The UST is assessed for corrosion holes by a method that is determined by the implementing agency to prevent releases in a manner that is no less protective of human health and the environment than those listed immediately above.
  • Upgrading bare steel piping is accomplished by adding cathodic protection. Damaged metal piping cannot be repaired and must be replaced. The 1998 tank corrosion protection requirements can also be met by installing new tanks made of noncorrodible material, such as fiberglass, inside an existing steel tank. Such new tanks must meet a code of practice developed by a nationally-recognized association or independent testing laboratory.

    Spill protection

    USTs must have catchment basins to contain spills. New USTs must have catchment basins when they are installed while older tanks can have catchment basins retrofitted to them. Catchment basins are also called "spill containment manholes" or "spill buckets." Basically, a catchment basin is a bucket sealed around the fill pipe. To protect against spills, the basin must be large enough to contain what may spill when the delivery hose is uncoupled from the fill pipe. Basins range in size from those capable of holding only a few gallons to those that are much larger.

    Overfill protection

    All USTs must have overfill protection. New USTs must have overfill protection devices when they are installed. The three main types of overfill protection devices are automatic shutoff devices, overfill alarms and ball float valves. Additionally, fuel deliverers must follow industry standards for correct filling practices. Spills often occur at the fill pipe when the delivery truck's hose is disconnected. Although these spills are usually small, repeated small releases can cause big environmental problems. Because human error causes most spills, federal UST regulations require that fuel deliverers follow standard filling practices. If, however, an UST never receives more than 25 gallons at a time, the UST does not have to meet the spill protection requirements. Many small used oil tanks fall into this category.

    Replacing the UST

    UST system replacement consists of proper closure followed by proper installation. Even if a new system simply replaces an old one, it is important that all closure requirements (such as the site check) and all cleanup requirements (if needed) are met. In many states, tanks and piping must be closed and installed by contractors who are certified to do this type of work.


    As time passes, more and more non-compliant USTs will be forcibly closed and UST owners and operators will be fined for non-compliance. Non-compliant USTs that endanger human health and the environment will likely be dealt with harshly by agencies charged with making sure the enormous number of USTs in the United States are up to standards. E-sources EPA Office of Underground Storage Tanks - EPA Office of Underground Storage Tanks Compliance Assistance - EPA Office of Underground Storage Tanks State and Territorial UST Program Directory - Petroleum Equipment Institute - American Petroleum Institute - Petroleum Marketers Association of America - The Steel Tank Institute -

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    This article appeared in Environmental Protection magazine, July 2000, Vol. 11, No. 7, p. 28.

    This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.

    About the Author

    Paul Simonetta is a vice president and senior project manager at Triton Environmental, Inc. Guilford, Conn., with 18 years of combined environmental compliance experience in industrial manufacturing and consulting. He received his bachelor of science degree from Fairfield University and his master of science in environmental science from the University of New Haven. One of Simonetta’s areas of expertise is in wastewater management and permitting. For more information, contact him at (203) 458-7200, extension 34.