A recent package of bills passed by the Michigan State Senate would weaken monitoring done by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) of underground storage tanks and increase the threat of groundwater and soil contamination.
“The main risk is that it gets into groundwater aquifers that people are using for drinking purposes, which, over half of Michigan uses groundwater for drinking,” said James Clift, the Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The other smaller risk is that it gets into the ground, into the aquifer and comes up into the sub-basements of buildings, vaporizes and causes a potential kind of air or explosion risk.”
There are currently 19,051 active underground storage tanks in Michigan. Many of the tanks are old and steel, at risk for leakage from rust and wear. Sites with sandy soil have an elevated risk. “The most susceptible conditions are ones where there are no natural barriers between where the tank is located and the aquifers. So you have the places with very sandy soil and contaminants tend to move very quickly through those and down to aquifer layers,” said Clift.
There have been 22,144 confirmed releases in Michigan as of September 30, 2011, of which 9,091 have yet to be cleaned up. There is a clear need for stronger monitoring and increased scrutiny of release sites.
“If we can clarify the clean-up procedures hopefully we can get more people to address the sites and eliminate the risks to drinking water,” said Clift. “There are some benefits to the proposed legislation. They are trying to get the programs more consistent with the clean up of other contaminated sites, but there’s also of course some problems.”
The bill would reduce the number of DEQ audits. Audits ensure that the parties responsible for the the tanks have adequate monitoring equipment to detect leaks and that if leaks do occur that they adhere to specific cleanup guidelines. Therefore, less audits can only mean less accountability for tank owners and more undetected releases.
Some new adaptations that Senate Bill 528-533 would impose are:
· Reduce the number and frequency with which the DEQ may audit a report claiming compliance with a clean-up plan and mandate a finding of compliance if no audit contradicts it.
· Cut fines in half for failing to meet leak-reporting deadlines.
· Prohibit the DEQ from publicizing rules more stringent than federal standards.
· Cap damages in civil suits filed under the act.
· Remove the force of law from DEQ guidelines produced under the act.