A leaking underground storage tank is removed from the ground. Photo credit: EPA and Sierra Club
Some types of environmental degradation are not immediately visible within a community. For example, leaking underground storage tanks (LUST) can contaminate soil, ground water, and indoor air from vapor intrusion. Approximately 700 facilities in the District hold 1,000 underground storage tanks (UST). Underground storage tanks can be found at gas stations, railroad yards, auto repair shops, and other locations. To protect human and environmental health, the District Government regulates petroleum and hazardous material USTs over 110 gallons (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, waste oils, heavy and light fuels) and heat oil tanks of more than 1,100 gallons. The UST Branch at DDOE mangers two programs—one for UST which primarily involves annual registration of UST facilities, operational compliance of active tanks, tank removal, installation, abandonment, and emergencies, and one for LUST, which involves the assessment and cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites.
Even tiny leaks in underground storage tanks must be taken very seriously because large amounts of petroleum can escape into the environment over time. Petroleum contains harmful constituents such as benzene and Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), which are known human carcinogens (can cause cancer) or are acutely toxic to humans and the environment. Therefore, the subtotal of petroleum or hazardous material leaks cleaned at underground storage sites provides information regarding environmental health and safety in the District.
How is the indicator defined? How often updated?
You can help prevent this sort of environmental contamination by reporting a leaking tank. Photo credit: District Department of the Environment
This indicator is measured as a count of the number of LUST sites remediated (cleaned) in the District. The data is derived from a daily updated database, which tracks LUST cases opened by DDOE from 1987 to the present. Most of the LUST cases opened are based on soil contamination discovered by UST Inspectors when tanks are being removed from the ground. If the tank removal report indicates that the soil and groundwater are contaminated above Tier 0 standards, a LUST case is opened and remains open until cleanup is completed and new monitoring data is submitted to show that levels are below standards.
What influences this indicator?
The behavior of the responsible party (RP) influences the timing of case closure. Inspectors can influence the speed at which the site is cleaned. If owners of the tank are expedient in the clean-up, meaning they immediately hire contractors, quickly begin work, and frequently report their progress, their case will close quicker than a responsible party who is not in good compliance. Leaks may occur more frequently in steel tanks and piping systems because they corrode over time if not cathodically protected; however any tank system, such as fiberglass reinforced plastic, can experience a release due to installation errors, operational issues, wear and tear, etc. The objective is to close cases as quickly as possible to mitigate environmental impacts from the release and subsequent migration offsite.
What you can do to help:
A damaged underground storage tank. Photo credit: District Department of the Environment
- If you have a fuel spill or notice a leak from your tank or a nearby tank systems, immediately notify the owner to stop use, investigate and cleanup up the release, and remove or repair the tank. Report the release to DDOE within 24 hours. This helps to keep your groundwater, soil, and air clean and your environment safe.
- If you smell petroleum vapors or suspect a leaking tank, fill out this form and submit to DDOE, or call (202) 535-2326 to report your observation. A UST or Air Quality inspector will promptly investigate.
- If you are the owner of a LUST, comply with the law (20 DCRM Chapters 55-70). Hire contractors in a timely manner, and report your progress to DDOE. Only once the site is deemed suitable for human health and the environment based on DDOE’s cleanup standards will your LUST case be closed.
Links to related programs
List of Certified Underground Storage Tank Contractors and Testers
Certified UST Risk Assessors
Underground Storage Tank Citizen Complaint Form
Frequently Asked Questions about Underground Storage Tanks
UST Public Records