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secondary-containment-requirementsIf you have an above ground storage tank that contains any type of potentially hazardous substance, you have to ensure the tank is protected with secondary containment. That way, you’re providing a back-up system – extra protection in case something goes wrong and you experience spills or leaks.  Know how to choose your above ground storage tank containment companies.

The purpose of secondary containment is to eliminate the possibility of hazardous waste or other substances migrating into the soil, surface water or groundwater as long as your tank system is being used. A vapor leak could contaminate the air, but secondary containment can’t guard against that.

Both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and individual states have rules about storage tanks, as do some counties or municipalities. But it’s the EPA that has defined four fundamental requirements for secondary containment of tank systems. You have to follow all of them. These regulations meet Uniform Fire Code standards, and also  International Fire Code standards, if those apply to you.

1. Your tank has to be up to the job.
It must be constructed of materials that are chemically compatible with whatever substance you will be storing inside. That’s why all new above ground storage tanks are made of steel. The alternative is to line your tank with a compatible material.

The tank has to be strong and thick enough to prevent failure, not only from actual contact with the stored substance but from variable pressure and weather extremes. It must withstand the stress of day-to-day operations, including issues such as vibration from traffic.

Secondary containment can be accomplished with a double-walled tank, an external liner, constructing a vault or some other arrangement that must be officially approved.

2. Your tank must have a stable foundation.
Because settling can cause problems, your tank has to be mounted on a foundation or base that can support its weight when full. The foundation has to be strong enough to withstand pressure from above or below as well as compression or uplift that could result in tank failure.

3. You must install and use a leak detection system.
It must be specifically designed to detect and alert you within 24 hours to any failures that occur with your tank, piping or fittings as well as the secondary containment structure. It must alert you to the presence of any hazardous substance release, or any liquid that has accumulated in the secondary containment system, even if it’s just water.

If you can prove that current detection technology isn’t sufficient or your specific site conditions make 24-hour detection impossible, the EPA may allow you to meet a lesser standard of “earliest practicable time.” That’s up to them, though, not you.

4. You have to remove any liquids that accumulate as quickly as possible.
Your secondary containment system has to be constructed with a slope that enables any liquid – whether it’s from a leak or spill or it’s from rain or snow – to drain away so you can remove it within 24 hours. If you have no slope, you must operate the system to enable removal of liquids, for instance using a pump.

As noted above, special circumstances may enable you to get an allowance that requires your system to meet a standard of “as timely as possible” if you’re unable to meet the 24-hour requirement. This permission specifically highlights your responsibility to protect public health and the environment.

Of course, there’s more to compliance than simply meeting the physical requirements for your storage tank and its installation. Common sense – and more regulations – require that you regularly inspect your tank and its components to see that all is well, that you protect it from accidental or intentional damage and keep the area around it free from debris.

If you do all these things, you can be confident you’re doing everything you can to protect your tank, your business and the community from harm.

Photo Credit: Cappellmeister via Flickr

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