Hazardous Materials:

Upgrading of Underground Storage Tanks Can Be Improved to Avoid Costly Cleanups

NSIAD-92-117: Published: May 13, 1992. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense (DOD) program for handling its underground storage tanks, focusing on: (1) the type and number of tanks owned by DOD; and (2) DOD efforts to comply with both federal and state requirements, identify and prevent leaks and spills, and correct environmental damage from leaking tanks.

GAO found that: (1) in 1989, DOD owned 30,692 underground storage tanks (UST) in the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii that were subject to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or state regulations; (2) the services reported a lack of historical data and records on older tanks which raised questions about the inventory count; (3) there may have been thousands of additional DOD-owned tanks excluded from the inventory count, because they were excluded or deferred from EPA regulations; (4) in April 1991, DOD collected more data and reported that it had about 24,000 regulated tanks and 17,000 unregulated tanks; (5) DOD made progress in meeting EPA leak-testing requirements by increasing its compliance level to 78 percent in 1990; (6) DOD progress in upgrading and cleaning up UST has been limited due to a lack of funds and funding rules; (7) the Army, Navy, and Air Force have all issued policies that require full compliance with the new EPA tank standards and encourage the use of above-ground replacement tanks and upgrading single-walled tanks; (8) DOD lacks a comprehensive plan to improve its implementation of EPA regulations; and (9) over half of DOD UST are unregulated, which poses significant risks to public health and the environment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The services have initiated programs to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the services to give more attention to the problem of leaking UST by assigning high priority to those UST posing the greatest risk, particularly, those near underground drinking water supplies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The services have initiated a program to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the services to give more attention to the problem of leaking UST by accelerating leak testing and upgrading to the maximum extent practical.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD directed that the services comply with the requirement to permanently close USTs, dispose of system components, and address any combination in a manner that complies with regulatory requirements. Regulations require existing tanks be fitted with corrosive protection and spill/overflow prevention equipment by the end of 1998.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the services to comply with the requirement to permanently close or remove inactive UST that have been out of service more than 12 months and determine if they have created any contamination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Fiscal year 1997 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) and OSD's 6-year plan call for the monitoring and removal or fixing of USTs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a comprehensive UST management plan that provides for compiling sufficient and accurate data and provides guidance on allocation of funding and other resources, including technical expertise to support the services' activities and Office of the Secretary of Defense's oversight of compliance with UST regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The services have initiated programs to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the services to give more attention to the problem of leaking UST by acting on high-risk UST that are currently deferred or excluded from EPA regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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