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Thousands of underground fuel tanks at risk of leaking

More than half of the underground fuel storage tanks in Arizona are either reaching or have passed their 30-year life expectancy. (Source: YouTube) More than half of the underground fuel storage tanks in Arizona are either reaching or have passed their 30-year life expectancy. (Source: YouTube)
Steve Brittle, president of Don't Waste Arizona, said the aging tanks pose a real threat of groundwater contamination, as well as neighborhood pollution across the state. (Source: CBS 5 News) Steve Brittle, president of Don't Waste Arizona, said the aging tanks pose a real threat of groundwater contamination, as well as neighborhood pollution across the state. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Laura Malone said the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is taking steps to reach out to gas stations with older fuel tanks and educate the owners about the need to monitor the tanks for leaks. (Source: CBS 5 News) Laura Malone said the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is taking steps to reach out to gas stations with older fuel tanks and educate the owners about the need to monitor the tanks for leaks. (Source: CBS 5 News)
The state Legislature passed a bill this year that sets up a study group, meant to come up with some solutions to the impending problem of old, leaking storage tanks. (Source: CBS 5 News) The state Legislature passed a bill this year that sets up a study group, meant to come up with some solutions to the impending problem of old, leaking storage tanks. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

A recent state audit highlights a problem that's taken decades to materialize. More than half of the underground fuel storage tanks in Arizona are either reaching or have passed their 30-year life expectancy.

The audit, performed by the Arizona Auditor General's Office, concludes that 901 underground fuel storage tanks are older than 30 years and another 2,935 are between 20 and 30 years old.

The result, according to environmentalists, state auditors and regulators, is that those tanks are at risk of leaking gasoline, diesel fuel and other chemicals into the surrounding soil and groundwater.

"We are aware of this situation. We are taking it very seriously," said Laura Malone, who directs the waste programs division of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Malone said her agency is taking steps to reach out to gas stations with older fuel tanks and educate the owners about the need to monitor the tanks for leaks. But the agency does not have the statutory authority to require the businesses to switch out the tanks when they reach their intended life spans.

"That is an authority ADEQ would like to have, for common sense reasons," Malone said.

But the state audit stated that ADEQ had not been enforcing a requirement that businesses with underground fuel storage tanks show a financial ability to deal with spills and leaks.

"The state's doing a terrible job," said Steve Brittle, the president of Don't Waste Arizona, an environmental group.

Brittle said the aging tanks pose a real threat of groundwater contamination, as well as neighborhood pollution across the state.

In 2010, a tank at a Tempe gas station leaked 10,000 gallons of fuel into the surrounding soil. Efforts to remediate the environmental damage could cost $1.5 million, according the auditor's office.

So far, the state has spent more than $330 million dealing with the problem. But Brittle and other critics argue that if the state forced the businesses to carry the proper insurance policies, the insurance companies would take care of much of the problem by requiring gas stations to install newer tanks and adequately monitor the tanks for leaks.

"It's just the cost of doing business, and if you can't afford to do that, you should find something else to do," Brittle said.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature passed a bill this year that sets up a study group, meant to come up with some solutions to the impending problem of old, leaking storage tanks. The group's findings are set to be released in December.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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