Approximately 566,000 underground storage tanks (USTs) nationwide store petroleum or hazardous substances. The greatest potential threat from a leaking UST is contamination of groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. EPA, states, and tribes work in partnership with industry to protect the environment and human health from potential releases.
EPA's federal underground storage tank (UST) regulations require that contaminated UST sites must be cleaned up to restore and protect groundwater resources and create a safe environment for those who live or work around these sites. Petroleum releases can contain contaminants like MTBE and other contaminants of concern that can make water unsafe or unpleasant to drink. Releases can also result in fire and explosion hazards, as well as produce long-term health effects. Several methods have been successfully used for over a decade to clean up thousands of sites. Often the specific characteristics of the site (for example its type of soil, proximity to groundwater) make it a better candidate for some cleanup methods rather than others. A contaminated site will need a site characterization (also referred to as site assessment as the terms are used interchangeably) that can help professionals choose the best cleanup method. Professional cleanup contractors base their decisions on site-specific investigations and with local environmental agency approval. In some cases, state or federal regulators take the lead at a contaminated UST site and will make all the cleanup decisions.
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