Groundwater contamination is a huge problem in the United States that needs to be cleaned up. The causes are storage tanks that leak out their materials into the ground causing contamination and the effects are all the human efforts to stop these leaks. Enormous amounts of work have been put into finding a way to stop the contamination from harming the environment anymore and to prevent future leaks.
Leaking tanks, most commonly gasoline tanks, are the biggest source of groundwater contamination (Cope).5 The tanks are man made storage facilities typically kept underground. Through wear and tear or faulty manufacturing these tanks spring leaks that get into the ground and contaminate it. Once the contaminates are in the ground they can get into the groundwater which affects the environment around it and that in turn affects the animals and human populace near it; most people get their drinking water from groundwater. If the leak is bad enough the fumes can harm burrowing animals in the ground (Day). The contamination also disrupts the hydraulic cycle which further harms the environment by coming down in the rain and getting into every surface it lands on (Groundwater Foundation). Since it is a leak of liquid, it can spread itself over a wide area in a short amount of time, making clean up very difficult if caught too late.
With all of these problems popping up from the tanks, the people who were affected by it got concerned enough to start complaining and planning, and the government started getting worried as well. Some of the concerns are very light, but some are pretty heavy. A light one might be that some bugs around the contamination die, but a heavy one is that if humans come in close contact with the contamination they can come in contact with benzene and ethanol among others; these are cancer producing agents (Day). While these may not directly cause cancer in the people it comes in contact with, it can cause general harm and ailments. This, coupled with the damage to the land and animals around it, caused many people a lot of concern. It caused enough concern so that the people went out and got some results on their own and with the government’s help.
The government started making several guidelines that had to be followed in order to keep existing tanks in the ground or to be able to install new tanks. One of those guideline’s is to have the tanks already in the ground inspected. Inspectors take into account all of the environmental concerns and carefully check all the possible contaminates (Gammel). The inspectors now go to the sites in person to make thorough checkups on the tanks; however, these in-site inspections are not required everywhere and many people who privately own tanks try to skirt around this by doing the examination themselves or having inspectors write off on them that don’t come over in person to check out the possible problems. That can lead to problems because leaks may go unnoticed. The government programs are also trying to prevent this from happening.
With these guidelines the government has also made requirements that the tanks must fulfill if they are to remain in the ground or are to be allowed to be placed in the ground. These sometimes are not taken into account with old model tanks, but that ignorance is being dwindled down by laws that are now being enforced. Wilford Day, an environmental engineer for the government, tells in a personal interview exactly what the governments requirements are for the tanks:
They are requiring that all underground storage tanks be double walled so if the tank leaks they will find gasoline in the second wall and they test it so that they know when to replace them. They are also requiring that the gasoline lines to the dispensers are run inside of another pipe, so if they develop a leak the second pipe will catch it.
Having these features will most likely protect the ground in which these tanks are kept from further contamination. It costs a lot of dollars for the tank owners and the government itself, but the money spent is made up for it when the spenders doesn’t have to pay for cleaning up damage anymore.
The cleaning up can be a very expensive undertaking, as the government document illustrates. The document goes through the whole processes of cleaning up a major contamination problem that occurred from a leaking tank. They came up with a new technique of enhancing bioremediation, joined with the removal of the tank and putting in ‘new’ groundwater to clear up the contamination. This project took several months to complete and needed some major funding. It shows how the groundwater contamination can be cleaned up effectively; however, this was a military funded operation and many public or privately owned tanks and leaks cannot be handled. That is when the government steps in with their guidelines and procedures to help.
There have also been several experiments with other techniques of cleaning up and prevention in the scientific community going along with the government or on their own. Wendy Weirach writes for the Hydrocarbon Processing magazine, and in her article she states that there is an MTBE eating microbe that might be added to gasoline in order to help eliminate future groundwater contamination (31). This is yet another effort to help prevent future contaminations, and if there is a way to put it into already contaminated areas it would help with the clean up even further.
Organizations like the Groundwater Foundation have come into being to inform people about the hazards of this contamination and how they can help with the cleaning up or how to prevent it. There are simple things that people can do to help prevent this contamination since it doesn’t all come from tanks. Day states that making sure no gasoline drips when you fill up your tank is one of the easiest and simple ways to help prevent groundwater contamination. Day goes on to tell about how there are web sites where people can go to find where all of the known leaking tanks used to be located and also where all of the contamination from those same tanks has spread to. These programs are not all government started, which shows that some of the general populous are taking an interest in these things and responding to the threat of groundwater contamination.
The response to fixing these problems is a huge undertaking and the government has risen to it with force in response to the public safety demand. They have spent millions of dollars watching out for the contamination, cleaning it up, and preventing future leaks (Day). The problem is leaking tanks that contaminate groundwater, normally with gasoline. The result is that government officials and the general populace have risen in their own respective ways to try and stop the contamination from further damaging the ground and to prevent future mishaps with the tanks.
Cope, Grant. “Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.” FDCH Congressional Testimony 1 (2002):1-5.
Day, Wilford. Personal interview. March 25, 2003.
Gammel, Gerald W. and Mark D. Hansen. “Environmental Site Assessments.” Professional Safety 2 (2003):37-44.
The Groundwater Foundation. March 2000. March 07, 2003. .
United States. Geological Survey. Assessment of Intrinsic Bioremediation of Gasoline Contamination in the Shallow Aquifer, Laurel Bay Exchange, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. South Carolina, 1996.
Weirauch, Wendy. “Microbe That ‘Eats’ MTBE Undergoes Testing in the Field.” Hydrocarbon Processing 78.4 (1999): 31.