EPA and Partners Surpass Milestone in Cleaning up Underground Storage Tank Releases

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its underground storage tank (UST) partners recently announced a milestone of cleaning up more than 500,000 petroleum releases from UST systems across the nation. As a result of this work over the past 33 years, the health of people living near those cleaned up releases and the environment are better protected. 

“Cleaning up more than one-half million underground storage tank releases means that roughly 90% of these releases no longer pose a threat to the public’s health or our soil and groundwater. Since these sites are disproportionately located in overburdened communities, this is an important milestone in pursuit of environmental justice,” says Carlton Waterhouse, EPA deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management. “Achieving this is the culmination of decades of work by our state, territorial, Tribal and industry partners, as well as EPA staff, who are dedicated to preventing and cleaning up UST releases. I congratulate and thank all for their past and continuing work!”  

The greatest potential threat from leaking USTs is contamination of groundwater, which is the source of drinking water for nearly half of the people living in the United States. A leaking UST can also present other health and environmental risks, including the potential for fire, explosion and petroleum vapors seeping into buildings and houses.

Background information

Underground storage tanks are in almost every community in our country, with locations ranging from remote to large urban settings.  

There are approximately 540,000 active USTs in the United States, located at retail and non-retail facilities. At a typical retail facility, such as a service station or convenience store, USTs hold tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. USTs are also located at non-retail facilities, such as municipal fueling for school buses, police and fire stations; marinas; taxi-fleet facilities; postal and delivery service facilities; and federal facilities like military bases.

Approximately 81 million people — roughly 25% of our country’s population — live within 0.25 mile of a release from underground storage tanks, which includes releases already cleaned up and those remaining to be cleaned up. Many of these underground storage tanks are located in underserved communities that are overburdened by pollution.

Despite EPA and its partners’ best prevention efforts, each year thousands of new UST releases are reported, and they add to a backlog of more than 60,000 releases remaining to be cleaned up. As the agency tackles the releases remaining, it says it will rely on best practices as well as new strategies to achieve continued progress.


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