What's Lurking Below

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Yes, your own back yard. If you live in an older house that was once heated with oil, the heating fuel of choice years ago, you may have an underground storage tank buried somewhere on your property.

During the oil crisis of the 70’s, with soaring oil prices, many homeowners switched to other ways of heating their homes such as natural gas, electricity, propane and wood. Many of these tanks were just disconnected and left in the ground – forgotten about!

UST’s from this era were single wall steel tanks. All steel rusts eventually. All it takes is a small pinhole in the tank to contaminate the soil and possible the ground water. If the tank has any rocks or stones putting any kind of pressure against the tank, the freeze-thaw cycle, natural settling, weight over the tank such as a swimming pool may be enough to puncture the tank.

If your home was built in the early 70’s or before you may have one of these tanks buried on your property. But how do you know for sure? Digging up your property just doesn’t make sense, it’s expensive. Call T.S.S.A. And see if they have any records of UST’s buried on your property. Even if T.S.S.A. has no record of any tanks buried on your property you may still have one, as not all tanks were registered with them.

You can hire a company with high powered metal detectors to come and check your property for signs of buried metal. Before digging up the yard check with local utilities and your municipal government to find out if any of their services are buried in that area.

These tanks were usually buried within 10 feet of the house. If you believe you have a UST on your property you’ll need to hire a licensed petroleum mechanic to remove the tank. T.S.S.A. can give you list of licensed petroleum mechanics in your area and answer any questions you have.

If you do have UST buried on your property, a licensed engineer will need to be on site for the tank removal, and to take soil samples from the excavation to either rule out contamination, or determine the extent of it. Any contaminated soil must be excavated and disposed of at a licensed facility. The petroleum mechanic usually makes arrangements for the engineer to be on site during the tank removal.

You’re looking at a price tag of about $5,000.00 for the tank removal and engineers’ report. Disposal of any contamination is on top of that.

It is possible for the contamination to migrate off site. When water runs through the soil it also moves the contamination with it. If the contamination has migrated to your neighbours property, you’ll be financially responsible for the clean up costs. You may not have been the one that installed the tank but as the property owner you are is financially responsible, even if you didn’t know it was there.

We all know how important it is to have a home inspection done by a reputable inspector when purchasing a home. When purchasing a home that was built in the early 70’s or earlier it would be a wise move to have the property inspected for UST’s as well. The costs of cleaning up contaminated soil and ground water has the potential to bankrupt you.

If you’ve ever been digging in the garden or otherwise disturbing the soil and thought you smelled gas or diesel you may have some degree of contamination on your property. You may have just thought it was coming from a passing car etc. You may have a UST buried on your property, or your neighbour might have one on their property that they don’t know about.

In Ontario, Canada go to www.tssa.org and click on the Fuel Safety link for more information. Even if you don’t  live in Ontario they have some excellent information posted. You can also use any search engine to search “leaking underground storage tank”


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