Not knowing about underground fuel tanks can be costly to property owners, public health
JILL AHO, H&N Staff Writer
After a work crew found a gas pump on an old dock at Putnam’s Point, city officials had to find out for sure what was underground.
If the pump had been connected to an underground fuel tank, that tank would have to be removed and the ground tested to make sure no contaminants had leaked into the soil near Upper Klamath Lake.
The city lucked out. Pipes found in the ground led instead to waterlines, and no tank was found.
If it had been, the city would have spent at least $5,000 to take it out and mitigate any damage. Not knowing what’s underground can be costly to property owners and to public health.
Department of Environmental Quality records indicate there are 349 known facilities with underground storage tanks, mostly for fuel, in Klamath County.
Of those, 297 are no longer in use, said Sheila Monroe, tank manager for the eastern region of the DEQ.
“Not all of those were actual gas stations,” Monroe said, adding that some could have been fueling stations for fire trucks. “A high percentage would have been commercial facilities.”
But there are likely underground fuel tanks that DEQ doesn’t know about. Any tank that was installed prior to 1988 and not in use after that date may not be registered with the state.
Of the facilities registered in Klamath County, DEQ records show 52 are active. Some of the others are in temporary closure, meaning the tanks have been sealed or locked up, but not removed and decommissioned, Monroe said.
Required leakage reporting began in 1988 and today all leaks must be reported to DEQ. Since 1988, Monroe said, 202 facilities in Klamath County have reported leakage. Of those, 154 have received what Monroe called a “no further action letter” from DEQ, meaning testing and mitigation are no longer required on the site.
“That leaves 48 facilities that are in the process somewhere,” she said.
Contamination can occur when attendants are inattentive and overfill tanks, old steel tanks get corroded and leak or some other type of spill occurs. The greatest concern is contact with ground water, Monroe said.
“Petroleum is a mix of chemicals, things like benzene and ethyl benzene are known carcinogens,” she said.
Other factors DEQ considers is how confined it is (in proximity to people) and whether people might be inhaling the vapors.
In circumstances where there is a great likelihood people will come in contact with the spill, the contaminated ground is often dug out and disposed of in an approved manner. Otherwise, DEQ may just require monitoring and sampling of the contaminated ground, or if there is very little risk of human contact, DEQ may not require any mitigation.
Contamination can affect a property’s value or marketability, Monroe said.
“If they clean up the facility completely, it doesn’t really have an effect,” she said.
But some properties that were not completely cleaned might come with a deed restriction warning of potential contamination or possibly poisonous ground water.