Underground Storage Tank Story in MCall


The Morning Call’s story “What Lies Beneath” (CLICK FOR FULL STORY) highlights the “out of sight, out of mind” problem of underground storage tanks used for petroleum products.

It’s disconcerting to read about inspection and cleanup backlogs around the Lehigh Valley and across the Commonwealth when the state regulatory agency with monitoring and enforcement jurisdiction over such issues was hit with among the steepest cuts in last years budget battle.

[T]he deal that ended the state’s budget crisis this month slashed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by 27 percent. The cut, one of the largest among state agencies, leaves the DEP with significantly fewer inflation-adjusted dollars than it had well over a decade ago. Politics PA 10/24/2009)

The MCall article also highlights the communication challenges posed by fragmented local government units.  As the story points out, “pollution knows no boundaries,” but East Allen Township didn’t share relevant information with neighboring Upper Nazareth, whose resident’s were experiencing firsthand effects of leaky tanks in East Allen.

”We didn’t contact anybody,” Deborah Seiple, East Allen’s manager, said in a recent interview. ”As far as I’m concerned and the zoning office is concerned, until DEP gives a final determination as to what’s going on there, it’s in their hands.” (What Lies Beneath)

The state is required to notify the municipality, but public notification is not mandated.

When the EPA approved Pennsylvania’s underground storage tank program in 2003, it required the state to notify municipalities of spills. EPA assumed municipalities would then tell the public.

. . .

Gerald Gasda, South Whitehall manager, said the pollution is a state issue. . . .”Frankly, I’m not aware of any requirement that we notify anybody,” Gasda said. He added he would be willing to create a policy to notify adjacent property owners of tank pollution if residents asked.

. . .

DEP has no plan to revise its notification procedures, meaning it will continue to tell only municipalities and property owners directly affected by leaks. Unless municipalities share that information, residents will have to rely on their own vigilance. (What Lies Beneath)

Residents directly effected can expect notification from DEP.  However, residents of municipality in which the leak occurs but not directly effected must rely on municipal officials for discretionary disclosure.  Residents of neighboring municipalities must hope that officials from their municipality receive notification from the municipality where the leak occurred and that the leaders in their municipality choose to share that information.  Greater intermunicipal cooperation would likely increase the chances that leak information will be shared across the same municipal boundaries that the contamination does not respect.


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Posted on February 28, 2010, in Municipal Government. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Peter Crownfield

    This is just one more example of how little DEP does what its name implies — protect the environment and the health of those living here.

    When the problem of tank leakage came to light about 25 years ago, the state of California ordered procedures put into place immediately to identify all underground storage tanks, detect leaks, and require prompt replacement and remediation of any leaky tanks. Most were done in the 1980s or early 1990s. People are paying now for DEPs ineffectiveness…..

  2. The LVEDC and it’s LVLRI (Lehigh Valley Land Recycling committee) do really good work at helping property owners clean up their sites. Property owners need to be willing to clean up their sites, though. If you suspect an environmental issue with your property, though, sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it doesn’t help anyone.

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