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Cost-Effective Leak Inspection for Underground Tanks

Rhode Island has found a more cost-effective way to prevent underground petroleum storage tanks threatening water supplies, according to a study conducted by the state’s Department of Environmental Management.

The study, “Reducing Drinking Water Supply Chemical Contamination: Risks from Underground Storage Tanks,” was funded by the EPA’s National Center for State Innovation through a three-year grant.

The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates that state environmental agencies inspect all underground storage tank (UST) facilities once every three years. Many states struggle to meet the requirement, often stretching existing resources or complying at significant expense, the study said.

As of September 2008, more than 470,000 UST releases had been recorded in the United States. The EPA reported 7,300 new leaks in 2008 and nearly 103,000 old leaks remained to be cleaned up.

The EPA-funded study evaluated a new regulatory model that aims to decrease agencies’ frequency of inspections among low-risk facilities, without sacrificing compliance performance or increasing public health risks.

The study applied a model comprised of four components: regulatory assistance, compliance certification using standardized checklists, independent agency inspections and statistically-based performance measurement. The model was adapted from an Environmental Results Program (ERP) effort developed in Massachusetts.

Researchers applied statistical analysis to data from randomly selected facilities that underwent field inspections at baseline and after certification, to assess whether compliance improved throughout the sector.  Some 96 facilities were inspected at baseline and 93 post-ERP intervention.
The study found that the ERP model produced positive, measurable results that improved compliance for tank corrosion protection, piping leak detection, spill prevention and overfill protection as well as groundwater monitoring wells and tank pad observation wells.
An economic analysis comparing the costs of Rhode Island’s tradition UST inspection program with the ERP approach found the alternative to have lower costs than the labor-intensive approach mandated by the Energy Policy Act.
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