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Leaking Fuel Storage Tanks Threaten Water

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, July 17, 2000

OAKLAND — The state has almost never ordered cleanup or assessed fines for the thousands of underground gasoline storage tanks leaking MTBE and other toxic chemicals into California’s water and soil, even when the leaks have been known for more than 10 years, according to a study by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

EWG's computer analysis of state data on 36,000 leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) found that no enforcement action was taken in more than 80 percent of the cases. Binding enforcement action was taken in fewer than 8 percent and fines were assessed in a fraction of 1 percent. About one-third of the cases have been open at least 10 years and two-thirds at least five years.

San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose have the most known leaking tank sites, with more than 1,000 each. Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Stockton have the most leaks known to contaminate drinking water. (See table, below.) Although many are listed as "closed," state records show that thousands of cases were closed without stopping the leaks, cleaning up the pollution, or imposing penalties against the responsible parties.

Gov. Davis has ordered a phaseout of the gasoline additive MTBE, a possible human carcinogen that contaminates an estimated 10,000 leaking tank sites statewide. But EWG said the majority of leaking tanks, containing chemicals that could be more dangerous than MTBE, continue contaminating water and soil without action by the state or regional water quality boards.

At a hearing Tuesday in Los Angeles, the state water board will consider tougher new regulations on underground storage tanks, including regular inspections and more monitoring to detect leaks before they endanger public health or the environment. Big oil companies oppose the new rules as too expensive for the small independent service station dealers who own the majority of leaking tanks. EWG argues that the oil companies, who knew long ago that storage tanks were leaking hazardous chemicals but said nothing, should bear greater responsibility than the dealers who sold and stored the companies’ gasoline.

Leaking underground fuel storage tanks are threatening drinking water supplies around the state.

 

 

City

Total Leak Sites

Open Leak Sites

‘Closed’ Leak Sites*

Sites That Contaminate Drinking Water

San Francisco

1,341

315

1,026

0

San Diego

1,213

466

747

148

San Jose

1,042

380

662

95

Oakland

781

393

388

7

Sacramento

718

336

380

184

Los Angeles

668

294

374

18

Stockton

504

312

152

166

Bakersfield

492

81

411

34

Fresno

405

200

205

44

Santa Rosa

365

197

166

266

Anaheim

333

85

248

74

Long Beach

332

176

156

0

Oxnard

292

79

214

0

Hayward

291

194

97

0

Santa Ana

282

180

102

140

Camp Pendleton

270

231

39

102

Riverside

238

106

132

68

Santa Barbara

227

103

124

134

Vandenburg AFB

226

84

142

0

Napa

223

107

116

5

 

* An unknown number of leak sites listed as "closed" have been neither contained nor cleaned up.

Source: EWG, from state Water Resources Control Board records

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