Energy & Environment and Environment and Environmental Policy and Water quality

Indiana littered with 2,100 leaking underground tanks

November 7, 2011

The state environmental agency is using $4 million in federal money to clean up 28 sites with leaking underground storage tanks, although that will barely make a dent in Indiana's problem.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is tracking about 2,100 sites with leaking tanks, many of which contain gasoline and diesel fuel that can damage soil and contaminate groundwater. Property owners are responsible for most of those cleanups, which the state agency estimates that would cost $400 million to complete.

Many of the 28 sites being cleaned up using federal stimulus money have been abandoned.

"Typically, those are sites where the responsible party is no longer around or is bankrupt," said Bruce Palin, IDEM's assistant commissioner for the office of land quality, told The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne for a story Monday.

In one such case, the agency is planning a $130,000 cleanup for the former Jerry's Marathon in the Allen County town of Monroeville. The building is dilapidated and the lot is littered with debris that the property owner hasn't addressed despite warnings going back to 2006.

An inspector with IDEM visited the site Sept. 12 and found not much had changed since the previous inspection months earlier — cans and boxes in the building, piles of wood and a rusting car in the gravel.

"Facility abandoned — tanks still exist," the inspection report said.

Laws passed in the 1980s required that property owners notify the federal government if they had underground tanks. If they did, the tank also had to meet, by 1998, new regulations designed to help prevent leaks.

While this caused many property owners to replace their tanks with improved models, some also simply walked away, abandoning their property. New property owners would take over and often not know it had a tank until a leak occurred.

"A lot of times, you end up dealing with people who just didn't know and are trying to correct a problem they never knew existed," said Cheryl Ryan, the director of business development at SES Environmental, a company with a Fort Wayne office that repairs and addresses damage done by underground storage tanks.

State environmental officials have spent $2.6 million of the federal grant the agency received in 2009.

The agency says some 200 to 300 cleanups area completed each year around Indiana, while it receives 150 to 170 new confirmed reports of leaking tanks during the same time.

The state's current list of about 2,150 leaking tanks simply covers those that IDEM know about, with an unknown number of others that have yet to be detected.

"It's a continual moving target," agency spokesman Barry Sneed said. "The number is always changing."

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