I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (“ASTSWMO”). ASTSWMO, to those unfamiliar with the organization, was established in 1974 to enhance and promote effective state and territorial environmental programs.  The annual meeting afforded me a great opportunity to hear and see the perspectives from regulators and industry experts on current issues affecting the use and operation of underground storage tanks (“USTs”).  While these issues are not necessarily new, hearing about firsthand experiences truly helps to put things into perspective.  Two sessions in particular did just that for me.

Biofuels and Corrosion

State and federal mandates over the last several years have required an increased usage of biofuel motor fuels.  Without getting too deep into technical specifics of the composition of biofuels, studies and field inspections have found that certain existing UST system components may not be compatible with these biofuels.  Biofuels, over a prolonged period, can degrade some UST system components such as hoses, gaskets, seals, elastomers and glues.  Because of the chemical composition of biofuels, there is also the possibility of greater microbial growth within the UST system than what might normally be observed in conventional motor fuels. As a result, buildup of sludge could occur, causing clogging in fuel lines and filters. All told, additional maintenance obligations have come into place which may not have been anticipated by UST system operators when they underwent the biofuel conversion process.  Periodic sludge removal and tank cleaning has appeared to evolve into a recommended best practice for UST systems of a certain age.

UST Contractor Qualifications

In light of single-walled steel upgrade deadline requirements taking place in many states, contractor qualifications are of paramount importance.  While most installation contractors are qualified and trustworthy, owners should be on alert for those looking to join the marketplace in order to gain a competitive edge.   To that end, an owner should inquire of the contractor as to whether they have obtained the requisite training on the particular product they are proposing to install.  All tank and piping manufacturers have specific criteria that must be followed when installing their product.  Often, these same manufacturers will require that an installer attend one of their training sessions pertaining to their product. Many installers are required to maintain proof of the requisite training so an owner should not feel like they are being overly intrusive in asking.   In addition, it is important to obtain a copy of the manufacturer’s installation checklist prior to the work taking place.  This is generally furnished upon completion of the work, but one would be well advised to obtain a copy in advance as a means of understanding what they can expect during the installation.

Another point an owner should consider is whether the installer has the requisite insurance to conduct their business. Many contractors will advertise that they have the proper insurance coverage.  An owner, however, should obtain actual proof by requiring a copy of the contractor’s certificate of insurance (“COI”) before the work commences.  The COI will list the types and amounts of coverage as well as the insuring carrier.  It is advisable that an owner request to be named as an additional insured on the general liability and pollution (if applicable) policies as a means of simplifying things should a problem result during construction.

There is no question that stronger regulations implemented over the last thirty years have resulted in a drastic reduction of releases from UST systems to the environment. Even with stronger regulations in place, unanticipated circumstances continue to arise which prolong the concerns of those that operate in this regulatory environment.

William Alpine is Corporate Counsel/Director of Cost Recovery for ATC Group Services, LLC.  ATC provides environmental consulting, industrial hygiene, geotechnical engineering, construction-materials testing, air quality control and consulting, and leak detection and repair services with over 100 locations throughout the United States and over 1,900 employees. Bill was previously the Executive Director of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 21J Fund.  Bill can be reached at (781) 246-8897 or william.alpine@atcassociates.com