Above-Ground Storage Tanks

Definition of AST
There are thousands of above-ground storage tanks or ASTs in Indiana, but the total number is not known for certain because many do not have to be reported1. ASTs hold a wide variety of chemicals, solvents, industrial byproducts, and waste products with the largest category being petroleum products. Some ASTs store food related products2.

ASTs can spill or leak contaminating soil or water
The contents of above-ground storage tanks can spill or leak when tanks are being filled or contents are being transferred or because of construction flaws, failure of piping systems, tank corrosion, rupture, or weld or valve failure. Leaked contents can contaminate rivers, lakes, wetlands or soil, and from the soil it is possible for some materials to move down into the underlying ground water. So the most immediate threat from a hazardous substance in a tank is to drinking water supplies, either drinking water taken from a river or reservoir or water taken from a well2,3.

Spill in West VirginiaWestVirginiaSpill
In January, 2014, a tank in Charleston, West Virginia leaked due to corrosion sending more than 7000 gallons of a hazardous chemical, methyl cyclohexanemethanol or MCHM, into the Elk River. As a result, more than 300,000 people were without safe tap water for 5 days in West Virginia, and other drinking water systems had to take protective action as the chemical moved downstream for more than 400 miles1,4. Nearly 300 of those exposed to the contaminated water in West Virginia sought medical care for breathing problems, rashes, nausea and vomiting and 14 were hospitalized. Schools, government offices, restaurants and many other businesses were forced to close during the ‘do not use’ order5. One study estimated that the spill cost the local economy in West Virginia $19 million per day6. Questions lingered for weeks about how to clear the contaminated water pipes.

The West Virginia Attorney General determined that Freedom Industries, the company that owned the tank, had ignored the warnings of its employees about the tank’s condition for several years before the spill. Their tanks had not had a government inspection since 1991. A few days after the spill Freedom Industries declared bankruptcy4.

Sources on the Elk River spill:
Hoppe, D. (2014). Uninspected tanks of toxins. http://www.nuvo.net/indianapolis/uninspected-tanks-of-toxins/Content?oid=2869181

Other Spills
While the Elk River spill in West Virginia serves as a dramatic example of an AST incident, it is far from being the only one. Each year in the United States there are leaks and spills from storage tanks. In 2013, 1,995 incidents were reported to the National Response Center involving storage tanks, drilling platforms, or pipelines throughout the United States, 39 in Indiana7. However, that database includes incidents that do not involve ASTs, and it is known to be incomplete. Pennsylvania has a more complete and specific storage tank database that shows an average of 14 above-ground tank leaks or spills per year over the last 10 years. It provides an example of the number of AST incidents that can occur in just one state8.

What are the US federal regulations regarding ASTs?
Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act: The law is set up to ensure that communities, and particularly emergency response personnel, have information on locally stored chemicals that could be hazardous. It focuses on the presence of hazardous substances and notification of releases. It does not regulate how they are stored, so it does not have requirements regarding the tanks themselves9,10. The requires anyone who had more than 500 pounds of an ‘extremely hazardous substance’ or more than 10,000 pounds of a ‘hazardous substance’ in the previous year to report the locations of those substances to state and local authorities in something called a ‘Tier II report’11. There are lists of the hundreds of substances that are defined as ‘extremely hazardous’ or ‘hazardous’12,13.

The following are exempt from EPCRA requirements: food, drugs, cosmetics, fertilizers, and any substance used in agriculture, research, a medical facility, or household10.

Petroleum products: The Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) regulation to prevent oil spills is part of the federal Clean Water Act. It applies to storage of petroleum products at facilities with a single tank holding more than 660 gallons or with a total in all ASTs of more than 1,320 gallons. SPCC requires owners of such facilities to prepare a spill prevention plan that includes how the facility complies with standards for secondary containment, corrosion protection, inspection, testing, warning systems, and employee training14,10

Hazardous waste: Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), tanks used to treat or store hazardous waste are under federal requirements regarding design, installation, inspections and testing, spill response, and closure of disused tanks.10

Flammable and Combustible Liquids: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a regulation for ASTs that store flammable and combustible liquids with requirements for construction, installation, and testing of tanks.10

What is required in other states?
States institute additional protections that fill in the gaps in federal law. For example, some states require registration of tanks that contain substances not included in the federal laws or contain quantities below the 500 pound or 10,000 pound federal minima. Thirteen states require inspections of ASTs. When Minnesota first instituted tank inspections in 1998, they found problems at 90% of ASTs, but they now find them in only 2% of those inspected each year15. The West Virginia legislature passed a bill in 2014 in response to the Elk River spill requiring registration of storage tanks and there are indications they may be adding requirements for inspections16.

Delaware has one of the most comprehensive regulations for preventing AST spills. It includes standards for tank construction, maintenance, the piping leading to and from tanks, secondary containment, overfill and spill prevention, leak detection, spill preparedness plans, labeling, inspections, testing of tanks, and financial liability of the tank owner17.

New York also has strict standards for hazardous substance storage, transfer, and spill response. New York’s laws were written in 1986 and require inspection and testing of ASTs as well as structures that will provide secondary containment should a tank begin leaking18.

What about tanks in Indiana?
As of January 2015, Indiana has just what is required by federal law, with no additional requirements for tank registration or inspections. Indiana has a database of hazardous chemical storage sites because of the federal ‘Right-to-know’ law. In the right-to-know database, Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management(IDEM) has identified 450 sites that it considers a potential threat to surface drinking water because they are located within a quarter mile of a waterway and 25 miles or less upstream from a drinking water intake. They have not used the database to identify tanks that could threaten well water, as of this writing 1,15.

Indiana inspects tanks containing petroleum products, as required under the federal Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) regulation. The Office of the Indiana State Chemist regulates storage tanks for fertilizers19 and pesticides20.

What is HEC’s Position on SB 312, a Bill that Deals with Above Ground Storage Tanks?

See our recent editorial, published in the Fort Wayne News Gazette, Northwest Indiana Times, Evansville Courier & Press, Bloomington Herald Times and several other papers.


1. Easterly, T. (12 Jan, 2015). Testimony before the Indiana Senate Committee on Environmental Affairs.
2. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Above-ground Storage Tank Systems. pca.state.mn.us/index.php/waste/waste-and-cleanup/waste-management/tank-compliance-and-assistance/aboveground-storage-tanks-ast/aboveground-storage-tank-ast-systems.html
3. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Bulk Storage of Chemicals and Petroleum. http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/287.html
4. West Virginia Attorney General (8 Jan, 2015). Elk River chemical Spill Incident Report.
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Elk_River_chemical_spill
6. WOWK-TV (4 Feb, 2014). Elk River spill cost economy $19 million per business day, study finds. wowktv.com/story/24633644/elk-river-spill-cost-economy-19-million-per-business-day-study-finds
7. Right-to-Know Network. rtknet.org/db/erns
8. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Storage Tank Release and Cleanup Locations. depweb.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/storage_tank_cleanup_program/20605/storage_tank_cleanup_locations/1053538
9. Environmental Protection Agency. Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). epa.gov/oecaagct/lcra.html#Summary%20of%20Emergency%20Planning%20And%20Community%20Right-To-Know%20Act
10. Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange. Fact Sheet: Management of Aboveground Storage Tank Systems. http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/07/06037.htm
11. US Environmental Protection Agency. Instructions: Tier II Inventory Form. epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-08/documents/t2-instr2012-1.pdf
12. Argonne National Laboratory. OSHA List of Hazardous Chemicals. anl.gov/Safety_and_Training/User_Safety/oshatoxicchem.html
13. US Federal Register. 40 CFR part 355, Appendix A and B
14. US Environmental Protection Agency. Managing Above Ground Storage Tanks to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water. epa.gov/safewater/sourcewater/pubs/ast.pdf
15. Hoppe, D. Uninspected tanks of toxins. nuvo.net/indianapolis/uninspected-tanks-of-toxins/Content?oid=2869181
16. West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Aboveground Storage Tanks (ASTs). dep.wv.gov/WWE/abovegroundstoragetanks/Pages/default.aspx
17. Delaware Administrative Code. Aboveground Storage Tanks. delaware.gov/AdminCode/title7/1000/1300/1352.shtml#TopOfPage
18. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Regulation of Chemical Tanks. http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/2648.html
19. Office of the Indiana State Chemist. Fertilizer Section. http://www.oisc.purdue.edu/fertilizer/index.html
20. Office of the Indiana State Chemist. Pesticide Section. http://www.oisc.purdue.edu/pesticide/index.html