Typical signs of a spill from an UST include stains on the soil, strong petroleum odors, puddles of oil and dead vegetation around the fill or vent pipes. This can occur when water has entered an UST. Oil is lighter than water and will float on top of the water until it exits the tank through the fill or vent pipe.
Typical signs of a leak from an UST include discolored soil (greenish gray), strong petroleum odors and dead vegetation. This can occur when the metal tank corrodes and oil leaks out of the tank into the surrounding soil. Rain water soaks into the soil. Oil is lighter than water and will float on top of the water. If the ground becomes saturated the oil may reach the surface of the ground and look very much like a spill.
If you discover signs of a leak, spill or soil contamination, you are required to contact the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) regional office
in Mooresville, NC at (704) 663-1699. Many spills go undetected until the removal of the tank.
Why should you bother with the cost and hassle of properly abandoning a home heating oil UST system after it is no longer needed?
The cost of preventing soil and groundwater contamination is small compared to the cost of cleaning up a leak or spill from a UST. Also, lending institutions may not be willing to lend money with the property as collateral if the home heating oil UST system is not closed out properly. Lastly, real estate transactions become problematic when an old improperly abandoned UST is found on site. If you are buying a home with a UST, check with your lending institution to see if they have additional requirements.
Why do UST's leak?
Typically it is a result of the steel tank or piping corroding with time. Once the steel has been corroded, the break in the system allows product to exit. Another common problem occurs when the fill pipe has been broken off. Many times this happens after it has been run over by a lawn mower or other yard equipment; other times the cap to the fill pipe has been removed. When the fill pipe is broken or left open, rain water can enter the UST system causing the heating oil to float on the water and eventually flow out of the fill pipe to the surface of the ground. Remember, it is the homeowner's responsibility to report the spill to NCDENR.
If a leak occurs, who is responsible for cleaning up the contamination around the UST?
If the UST has been used on or after November 8, 1984 then the current property owner is the tank owner. If the UST was taken out of use before November 8, 1984 then the last person to use the UST is considered the tank owner. There is financial assistance for the tank owner through the North Carolina Noncommercial Leaking Petroleum UST Cleanup Fund that will pay up to one million dollars for reasonable and necessary costs directly related to the cleanup of a petroleum release from your UST, but the fund will not pay for attorney fees, tank removal costs or excessive or unnecessary work. It is important to work closely with the NCDENR regional office in Mooresville to ensure that the work is within the cleanup fund guidelines. Unfortunately leaks or spills from aboveground storage tanks are not covered by the noncommercial leaking UST cleanup fund.
If you are responsible for cleaning up a leak or spill from a home heating oil UST, what should you do?
First, report the contamination to the NCDENR Mooresville Regional Office at (704) 663-1699. Soil samples may need to be taken to determine how much contamination is present. Typically, these samples need to be analyzed for total petroleum hydrocarbon concentration. Groundwater samples may also need to be taken if the water table is close to the contaminated soil. These samples must be analyzed by a certified laboratory to ensure that the sampling is completed according to NCDENR guidelines. It is recommended that a professional consultant be retained. Depending on the concentration and the extent of contamination, further assessment of the site may be necessary. The NCDENR Regional Office
in Mooresville will be helpful in determining what further steps are needed. If further action is required, you will likely have to hire a professional to assess the site and clean up the contamination.
Where can I get more Information?
The following links can also provide useful information concerning UST's: