Small Tank Abandonment Program

State: NY Type: Model Practice Year: 2005

Article XI of the Nassau County Public Health Ordinance (NCPHO) entitled, “Toxic And Hazardous Materials Storage, Handling And Control” regulates heating oil tanks with capacities over 1,100 gallons. However, it was determined that heating oil tanks under 1,100 gallons in capacity (most residential tanks) also pose a significant leakage threat and are a potential source of contamination to the groundwater. In 1990 there was an estimate of 63,000 existing underground heating oil tanks of less than 1,100 gallons in capacity in the County. In response to this concern, the Nassau County Board of Health amended Article XI to allow for the voluntary abandonment of non-leaking tanks less than 1,100 gallons in capacity. The amendment provides residents with specific guidance and requirements for the proper closure of old heating oil tanks. Since July of 1990, the Nassau County Department of Health (NCDH) has maintained a registry of heating oil tanks less than 1,100 gallons in capacity which have been removed or properly abandoned in place. As of December 2004, the NCDH has recorded over 36,300 small tank closures. This represents 57% of the small tank population initially identified. The goal of the program is to upgrade every underground tank in the county and eliminate the threat of small tank discharges. The registry serves as a valuable tool for monitoring progress towards our goal of upgrading all 63,000 small tanks and ultimately for protecting groundwater resources.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) delegated authority for its Petroleum Bulk Storage Program to Nassau County and the Nassau County Board of Health enacted Article XI in 1986 to regulate the program. During the first few years of the implementation of the County Petroleum Bulk Storage program it became apparent that due to the number, density, and age of the small tanks in the county that regulatory oversight was needed to prevent catastrophic contamination. Therefore in July 1990, Nassau County amended its regulations, developed a program to track all small tank closures, and instituted a large scale public relations effort to educate the residents on the need to protect the groundwater by properly closing their old oil tanks The Small Tank Abandonment program is innovative because it focuses on those tanks which are primarily exempt from New York State Petroleum Bulk Storage and Nassau County Article XI NCPHO requirements (except in the case of a spill) and creates a procedure that allows the owners of small tanks to be proactive in their approach to spill prevention instead of just reacting to a spill event. The Small Tank Registry is the only such registry in New York State. The registry is used to monitor progress towards the goal of upgrading all small tanks in the County and has also been used to provide supplemental information to the NYSDEC for groundwater contamination investigations. The registry is also a valuable source of information for home purchasers and attorneys during real estate transactions as the NCDH responds to approximately 500 requests per year for documentation of a proper tank closure for property transaction purposes.
Agency Community RolesThe NCDH used a multifaceted approach to inform and educate the public about groundwater protection and spill prevention. Initially, a public information package (copy attached) was produced which included: A) general information on protecting the groundwaters of Nassau County; B) a letter outlining the procedure for a proper tank abandonment and; C) the two forms required to be filed with the NCDH to record the abandonment or removal of a tank. These forms were distributed to local libraries, homeowner organizations and contractors involved in tank closures, and were mailed to residents in target areas of concern. Over the years, public meetings were attended by NCDH staff in an effort to educate various community and civic groups on the environmental and financial benefits of spill prevention, as well as the requirements for tank closure. NCDH staff also served as guest speakers at meetings organized by the Oil Heat Institute, LILCO (the gas service company at the time) and the Long Island Board of Realtors. All of these efforts to educate the public and industry representatives have resulted in an increase in the number of small tank removals and abandonments from approximately 100 a year to as many as 2,600 a year. Costs and ExpendituresCurrently the program is managed by the equivalent of one Public Health Sanitarian and one Clerk (part-time). The Public Health Sanitarian performs select field inspections of the abandonments, provides guidance to contractors and the public, manages the database and attends public meetings. Clerical duties include responding to phone inquiries, record keeping, and application review. A $35.00 per tank recording/inspection fee is charged to cover the costs of administering the program. This fee produces $77,000 per year in revenue for 2,200 tank abandonments per year.  ImplementationThe NCDH has also made the public information package available on the County’s website at WWW.CO.NASSAU.NY.US to allow the public access to this information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The abandonment of old corroding fuel oil tanks will reduce the number of contaminant releases to the environment and therefore, will reduce the amount of pre-treatment necessary to provide water to the residents of the county that meets New York State drinking water standards.
This program is “low-tech” and the resources required to initiate and maintain this type of program are already available to most county or state agencies. The registry can be created using any standard computer database program. The information collected by NCDH includes: the proposed date of abandonment or removal, address, tank size, fill material, visible perforations (yes/no), monitoring well required (yes/no), amount of soil removed (# cubic yards), new installation type (aboveground or belowground tank, or gas conversion), installation size, contractor, and a field for any additional comments. A standard information packet is also helpful as it describes the specific procedures to be followed along with any required forms for submission. The success of the program in Nassau County is attributable to a strong public education policy. The NCDH has attended several public meetings and events held by professional and trade organizations in an effort to educate the public about groundwater contamination issues and the procedures that small tank owners should follow to prevent leaks from occurring from their underground tanks. This has proven to be the single most important part of the program. Now, on any given day, a resident of Nassau County can get basic tank closure information from their oil company, gas service provider, home inspector, realtor or the County website. The local contractors also know that they may contact the NCDH at any time for additional information. NCDH staff answer in excess of 1,000 telephone inquires per year from lawyers, realtor, and the public regarding the procedures for a proper tank closure.
Over the past 14 years, real estate professionals, local contractors and informed residents have become the greatest asset in assuring that old tanks are properly abandoned in place. The efforts made by the NCDH in the early years of the program to educate these professionals have allowed the County to leverage its resources. Now, the oil and gas suppliers compete to win new customers by offering to properly abandon old heating oil tanks and replace them with new tanks at lower prices. Also, real estate attorneys now demand closure of old tanks as a condition of property transfer.