Reducing Drinking Water Supply Chemical Contamination: Risks from Underground Storage Tanks


Richard T. Enander, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908, USA;


Drinking water supplies are at risk of contamination from a variety of physical, chemical, and biological sources. Ranked among these threats are hazardous material releases from leaking or improperly managed underground storage tanks located at municipal, commercial, and industrial facilities. To reduce human health and environmental risks associated with the subsurface storage of hazardous materials, government agencies have taken a variety of legislative and regulatory actions—which date back more than 25 years and include the establishment of rigorous equipment/technology/operational requirements and facility-by-facility inspection and enforcement programs. Given a history of more than 470,000 underground storage tank releases nationwide, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to report that 7,300 new leaks were found in federal fiscal year 2008, while nearly 103,000 old leaks remain to be cleaned up. In this article, we report on an alternate evidence-based intervention approach for reducing potential releases from the storage of petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating/fuel oil, and waste oil) in underground tanks at commercial facilities located in Rhode Island. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether a new regulatory model can be used as a cost-effective alternative to traditional facility-by-facility inspection and enforcement programs for underground storage tanks. We conclude that the alternative model, using an emphasis on technical assistance tools, can produce measurable improvements in compliance performance, is a cost-effective adjunct to traditional facility-by-facility inspection and enforcement programs, and has the potential to allow regulatory agencies to decrease their frequency of inspections among low risk facilities without sacrificing compliance performance or increasing public health risks.