Efforts to stop spills in underground fuel tanks…

Efforts to stop spills in underground fuel tanks… 


Leaks, spills still happening in Hawaii – KITV-4 Honolulu Paul Drewes.

Many are concerned about gas prices going up, but there is another concern in Hawaii: fuel going down from leaks in underground storage tanks. The recent Red Hill leaks drew a lot of attention to underground fuel storage in the islands. The massive tanks are the biggest in the state, but not the only ones around. The Department of Health monitors many more.

“We have about 1,000 facilities with underground storage tanks like gas stations, emergency generators for hospitals, and for hotels,” said Steven Chang, with the Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch of the Dept. Of Health.

A typical gas station may have three 10,000-gallon tanks underground. The location under paved lots makes it hard to spot a leak. So, along with monthly tank monitoring – some sites have weekly, even daily, leak detection tools. New tanks are also required to be double-walled, which can contain many leaks.

But a number of sites still have old storage containers. “Unfortunately about a third of our inventory are single-walled tanks, fiberglass or steel. That is a problem because these older tanks aren’t used to the new types of fuels we’re trying to put in,” said Chang.

Ethanol and even biofuels can harm some of those tanks and lead to leaks. Fuel can also be spilled into the ground when tanks are over filled or when pipes crack or break. Over the past three decades, the state has dealt with thousands of spills and even now with leak detection devices roughly 13 percent of the state’s underground storage tanks have problems.

“We’re down to about 130 sites we are actively monitoring and working with owners and operators to clean up those sites,” said Chang. Why is monitoring underground fuel tanks so important? Because of what is deeper underground. “When you have underground tanks sitting over aquifers used for drinking water, if those contaminants get in the ground they can move and get into our drinking water,” said Chang.

The state requires spills near groundwater to be cleaned up but other leaks may be left alone if they are in certain types of soil, like clay, that can contain the fuel. Bacteria and other factors will eventually help break down those spills, but that can take years and leave communities with contaminated sites.

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