soil contaminationAbove ground or underground storage tanks can leak. Sometimes spills happen. It’s never good. That’s why regulatory agencies put so much emphasis on preventing soil contaminationin the first place. A leak-detection system is your first line of defense.

So why might you need new leak-detection equipment?

Are you installing a new tank?

Regardless of where your tank is located, you’re required to install some kind of leak-detection devices as part of your fill-and-distribution system, not only to prevent soil contamination but to protect humans and the natural environment from dangerous substances that could migrate from the soil into the surrounding groundwater.

Whether your tank is above or underground, it has to meet standards set out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Spill, Prevention, Control and Countermeasure regulations. The EPA sets basic standards for tank design, construction and installation,  ongoing monitoring and inspection and clean-up in case of a leak or spill. Compliance is monitored by the state, which can also impose additional rules.

To guard against soil contamination, leak detection equipment has to be installed as part of your tank’s containment system and also at intake and outflow valves, where piping passes through walls, etc. Above ground storage tanks require cathodic protection.

Once your system is installed, you must regularly monitor it in perpetuity, by:

  • Maintaining a daily inventory of product contained in your tank.
  • Recording any unexplained losses.
  • Monitoring the interstitial space weekly, if you have double-walled tank, or the dike system, if that’s what you have as part of your above ground system.
  • Monitoring cathodic protection monthly.
  • Monitoring release detection monthly.

You’ll be officially inspected at some point, but conducting a visual inspection on your tank at least monthly will help augment your leak detection system.

Are you having problems with your existing system?

How quickly is your current leak detection system alerting you to problems? Just because official reporting only is only required on a weekly or monthly basis doesn’t mean those are appropriate intervals to actually become aware of a problem. Equipment that’s in good condition should detect and alert you to a leak right away.

Have you experienced a leak or spill that your existing system failed altogether to alert you about? This is a critical problem that should be addressed immediately. In many ways, not knowing is the worst danger from potential soil contamination.

If your tank or your leak detection apparatus is aging, it’s probably time for an upgrade, and you might need more than new leak-detection equipment. Perhaps you need a new tank, or you should replace troublesome components such as piping, valves or other fittings.

How much risk are you willing to take?

Leaks can be caused by tank failure, piping failure, poor maintenance, sloppy dispensing or delivery procedures or a lack of physical safety and security precautions. Human error is a factor in virtually all these instances, so there’s a direct connection between your employees’ actions and the potential of soil contamination. How well trained are they?

Leaks are expensive, no matter what caused them, unless they’re deemed “insignificant.” Don’t count on that. If your tank leaks, you can look forward to official paperwork, fines and increased governmental scrutiny. You’ll have to prepare and implement a remediation plan. And you’ll have to repair or entirely replace your tank and its associated piping and fittings. Your business will lose productivity and you could lose sales.

Aside from costly compliance-related considerations, hazardous substance leaks put your land, yourgroundwater, your facilities, your employees, your neighbors and your reputation at risk. Soil contamination puts the natural environment at risk, too. Did you know that more than half of Americans get their drinking water from groundwater? That’s more than reason enough to install new leak detection equipment for your storage tanks.