Underground cleanup

Published: .
Updated: .

Sandra Chapman/Eyewitness News Investigator

Indiana, March 22 - Indiana has a LUST problem, Leaking Underground Storage Tanks. LUST is the federal acronym.

What's happening below the surface with old rusted out tanks is now drilling home change in how motor fuel is stored. It's a matter of public safety.

State officials say that across the state "All those tanks have now been closed," but not cleaned up.

Right now 490 other sites statewide pose an active threat. Seeping petroleum and diesel fuels contaminate soil, groundwater and, in extreme cases, well water supplies.

Craig Shroer with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management says, "Sometimes it can get into sewer systems and cause explosive vapors or find their way even into homes or businesses. Any exposure, whether it's through our drinking water or in the home through vapors, present the most significant concern for us."

So where are the active high priority sites in Marion County? 13 Investigates mapped it out. There are 57 active sites in Marion County alone, most of them are service stations, some abruptly closed.

One recurring name is BP Connect, formerly Amoco. The company confirms 35 releases. But IDEM says that doesn't make BP a bad neighbor. They've already cleaned up 24 sites.

"They simply have more gas stations." Shroer adds, "Whether or not BP is operating a station or has closed a station, they're the responsible party. We expect them to clean it up."

What you might not expect are schools on the state's LUST report. It's a recurring problem for one local district where tanks buried underground for fueling buses leaked.

"I think anytime your name appears on that kind of list there's always a reason to be concerned." Dr. James Mervilde is Superintendent at Washington Township where Eastwood Middle School made the active high priority list.

An investigation found fuel product floating on top of groundwater and, according to an internal IDEM document, the school failed to get proper testing for a fuel additive.

Phil Smith is the Washington Township Operations director. "They wanted to define the ground water samples more closely to see the extent and level of contamination."

The fuel additive in question contaminated the water supply at a school in Roselawn in northern Indiana. That school had to bring in bottled water for drinking, food preparation and for washing hands.

It's a scenario Washington Township officials say is unlikely since it relies on city water, not wells.

"The area is about the size of a trash dumpster," says Smith. "We know that it is no where near the school. We've drilled test wells and they come back negative and the plume is not moving."

Dr. Mervilde adds, "As a district we're absolutely going to pay attention to what IDEM tells us."

Right now IDEM says the district must devise a clean up plan to eliminate any potential risk to students.

"We always pay close attention to the schools and we wanted to make sure they aren't being affected," says Shroer.

IDEM says the Eastwood Middle School site is inaccessible to students and presents no harm at this time.

Washington Township also had buried tanks at Westlane and North Central that were cleaned up with no further corrective action required.

Land owners that refuse to clean up could face fines up to $10,000 a day. IDEM says it's largest enforcement fine amounted to $38,000 imposed on a southern Indiana company.

The federal government has also mandated better standards for underground storage tanks.