[DEQ] DEQ cleans up near-record number of leaking petroleum storage tanks

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DEQ cleans up near-record number of leaking petroleum storage tanks

Dec. 8, 2014

Just one closure shy of its all-time record, the DEQ cleaned up 488 leaking underground storage tanks during fiscal year 2014.

These tanks, commonly known as LUSTS, are situated underneath gas stations and were used to store petroleum before they began to leak. 

It has been more than a decade since the DEQ’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division recorded more than 400 LUST cleanup closures, but recent amendments to laws regulating LUST sites made cleanups easier and more efficient. 

Michigan saw fewer LUST closures per year during the 2000s, but that trend appears to be turning around. Last year’s upswing to 285 closures after only 185 in 2012 showed positive progress begun with that year’s amendments to laws regulating LUST sites. This year’s dramatic increase is even more encouraging. 

Since the number of new confirmed releases has remained relatively stable – between 100 and 200 annually – the increasing number of closures will start to reduce the backlog of about 9,000 open LUST releases throughout the state.
Graph of LUST closures from 2009 to 2014
To continue this positive progress, DEQ staff is reaching out to hundreds of owners and operators to assist them in achieving site closure. These efforts have spurred action on more than 600 sites, beginning the process whereby site operators can take advantage of the opportunities for risk-based closure made possible by recent statutory amendments, as well as partner with DEQ staff to achieve closure.

DEQ’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division Chief Robert Wagner believes the partnerships being formed every day between staff and site operators are one key to success. 

“Owners, operators and the DEQ share the same goal: site closure,” Wagner said. “Working together can lead to successful closure.” 

There are also thousands of sites where DEQ has little to no information about other known LUST sites. To fill this information gap, the DEQ staff collects soil and groundwater samples at these sites to evaluate the condition of the contamination and determine whether the releases pose a threat to human health or the environment. Based on these samples, the DEQ can focus cleanup efforts on the highest priority sites. 

Here too, the department is ramping up efforts. This year, the department funded triage investigation at 325 sites across the state, surpassing last year’s total of 208 sites. 

While these efforts are showing significant success, the number of closures could increase further if given the additional, necessary funding.