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Compliance Corner – Trends in DEP Enforcement Inspection

inspector writes findings in report on clipboard

This is our first installment in our new blog page that focuses on the latest trends in New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) enforcement of its Underground Storage Tank (UST) regulations. We will continually provide tips and recommendations for managing the many UST rules that affect Service Station operators.

This edition focuses on recent NJDEP compliance inspection targets at gas stations and other fueling facilities.

NJDEP Likes to Sniff Your Openings

For years DEP inspectors have employed some type of organic vapor monitor (OVM) or (PID) to sniff open bottom manholes at your tank tops. A reading above 50 PPM on these meters and the operator was forced to conduct some form of environmental site investigation. This lead to the widespread installation of containment manholes at all tank risers. No open bottom manholes – No openings to sniff. In today’s regulatory climate where Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs) are required for any environmental site investigation at a gasoline or diesel installation, a 50 PPM reading from a NJDEP inspector sniffing your tank top openings results in LSRP retention and thousands of dollars in environmental investigation costs. The lesson is clear, if an open bottom manhole can be replaced with a sealed bottom (containment) manhole – DO IT!

Some Openings Cannot Be Sealed

While NJDEP inspectors have also always sniffed the annular spaces of your double wall USTs, the ramifications of an elevated PPM in the annular (interstitial) space on your double wall UST has recently gotten a lot more complex. In the past, an elevated PPM reading meant that the operator had to hire a testing contractor to prove the double wall UST was tight in order to lift a delivery ban. DEP inspectors wanted to know why there were excessive gasoline fumes in the outer-wall of the tank, but accepted a tight test to close out the Notice of (potential) violation (NOPV).

RECENTLY, however, a tight test on the outer-wall of the tank has NOT been sufficient to lift a delivery ban when re-inspection by NJDEP still showed elevated PPM readings in the annular space of the double wall tank. LUTZ has recently been involved in two (2) such cases(both steel tanks with fiberglass coating or STiP3 protection). In discussions with John Olko , NJDEP Supervisor, we argued that a tightness test has an allowable tolerance for some minute leakage. Our point was that even if the inner tank had microscopic pores allowing vapor molecules to pass into the interstitial space, the tank was liquid tight. Mr. Olko rejected our argument, saying the tank was not manufactured with microscopic holes. Relying on another section of the UST Regulations condemning such equipment. In Olko’s words, “repair or remove” the out of spec equipment. Although LUTZ can epoxy line the inner tank to repair the problem, the procedure is costly.

One Winner-One Loser

In the two (2) recent cases, our approach was to employ a Helium test to verify whether there were, in fact , microscopic perforations in the primary tank of the double wall UST. The results are as follows:

CASE 1: A two compartment double wall tank was charged with helium one compartment at a time (note: a two compartment UST typically has only one (1) annular space). A helium detector was inserted in the annular space as each compartment was charged with helium. The results were clear – one compartment allowed the helium gas to escape into the annular space and one compartment did not.

Resolution: Lutz will epoxy line the leaky compartment at significant cost to the operator.

CASE 2: Three (3) single compartment USTs at a gas station all had elevated PPM levels in their outer -walls. A vacuum test was performed on the annular spaces of all three (3) USTs and held tight. The NJDEP inspector insisted upon re-inspecting the USTs before lifting the delivery ban. When the inspector still found all annular spaces with elevated PPMs, he would not lift the ban. As in Case 1, helium was used to fill the primary tanks and a helium gas detector was placed in the outer walls of the USTs to sniff for the gas. Luckily for this operator, not a whiff of helium was detected in the outer walls of all three (3) tanks.

Resolution: Delivery ban lifted – loss of business, aggravation, but no significant repair cost to the operator.

Which Operators Need Worry the Most

If your facility has double wall Steel USTs (fiberglass coated externally or STiP3) that are about 20 years or older, you are at the greatest risk. Despite the cathodic protection or external coating, rust still never completely sleeps. Metal degrades over time and ethanol seems to only aggravate the degradation. We often find perforations under striker plates, ironically, designed to protect the steel from tank sticks. As in Case 1, however, we are starting to repair tanks where perforations are not even visible to the human eye. Metal is porous and time and ethanol apparently can and do enlarge those pores. This article is not meant as an indictment of Steel and an endorsement of Fiberglass tanks. Who knows what the future holds for our Fiberglass USTs and their battles with ethanol as the years progress.

I Have a Double Wall Steel Ust from the 1990’s – What Can I Do to Help Myself?

I would have my annular spaces sniffed before the NJDEP inspector does the sniffing. I would want to know if my USTs are susceptible to this problem. As we saw in case 2, the accumulation of fumes in the outer wall does not necessarily mean you are in for an expensive epoxy lining job. It may just mean you have to be proactive and perform some type of regular maintenance to “air out” those annular spaces. LUTZ would employ some of the methods we use to de-gas USTs prior to making an entry. How often would these methods need to be employed? I would say it depends and periodic monitoring will answer the question for each particular case over time.

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