The Associated Press says the government owns hundreds of underground fuel tanks that need to be inspected for leaks of hazardous substances that could make local water undrinkable. Many of the tanks were designed for emergencies back in the days of the Cold War. Eileen Sullivan of the Associated Press reported recently that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has known since at least the 1990s that tanks under its supervision around the country could be leaking fuel into soil and groundwater.
FEMA has admitted that it knows of at least 150 underground tanks that must be inspected for leaks. The agency also is trying to determine whether an additional 124 tanks are underground or above ground and whether they are leaking. According to FEMA, there has been no documentation of reported leaks or harm to communities from the tanks. Former agency officials and Congressional testimony, however, suggest that the federal tanks have long been considered a safety and health problem. Many of these tanks were built to store 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel and placed around the country at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s to fuel electric generators that could sustain emergency broadcasts by radio stations in case of a nuclear attack or other catastrophe. Made of steel, the tanks inevitably rust over time and allow fuel to escape. Steel tanks left in the ground for decades rot and that’s a well known fact. Surely, government officials involved knew that at the time the tanks were buried underground.
More than 500,000 leaking storage tanks — most of which are filled with fuel and oil — are buried across the country, according to Environmental Data Resources, based in Milford, Connecticut. The consulting company says that’s about half of all the underground tanks in the country. Those tanks are owned privately or by local, state and federal agencies. Because they’re underground, leaking tanks can go undetected for years. If diesel leaks into drinking water, affected people could be at a higher risk of cancer, kidney damage and nervous system disorders. A gallon of fuel can contaminate 1 million gallons of water.
FEMA will determine what to do with the defunct tanks — such as remove them or fill them with sand — on a case-by-case basis, because of varying state laws. It appears that FEMA hasn’t let all of the states know about leaking tanks within their borders. A 2005 law required all federal agencies to submit an inventory to Congress and the EPA of all the tanks they owned or operated, and whether the tanks were in compliance with the law. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government insisted on better-made tanks. The underground tanks of today must have safety measures including leak detection and an extra shell made with material resistant to gasoline, diesel and ethanol.
Source: Associated Press
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