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The Office of Senator James Eldridge: Recommendations for a Comprehensive Massachusetts Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Policy

Importance of our project

When you fill up your car’s gasoline tank, have you ever wondered how that gasoline is stored? Well, under every gas stations lies two to three underground storage tanks (UST) that hold between 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of gasoline. This natural resource is an environmental hazard, so the USTs require strict regulation. Although regulated, they do have the potential to leak from corrosion, overflow, and user errors. Below is an example of typical USTs.

Antao, T. (2009. Installation of an underground tank [electronic image]).

In the event of an UST spill, the gas station owner is responsible for the cleanup of all properties affected. However, they hire a Licensed Site Professional (LSP) for the actual cleanup process. These cleanups are often expensive, so the owner files for reimbursement from a Massachusetts oil spill cleanup fund.

The spilled gasoline commonly spreads to abutting properties, affecting the lives of the residents who live near gas stations. For example, in 2012, a Citgo gas station in Marlborough, Massachusetts, spilled 2,000 gallons of gasoline and it spread to a residential neighborhood. The spill has severely affected the lives of two homeowners, the Buckleys and Chavezs. The Buckley’s were forced to remove their pool, outdoor restroom, and outdoor bar. The Chavezs were in the process of selling their home before the spill occurred, and now cannot because of the damages. Massachusetts needs a new UST cleanup policy to protect abutting properties if gasoline spills to their property.

Our sponsor

Senator James Eldridge:

Jamie Eldridge has served as State Senator for the Middlesex and Worcester district since January 2009. Previously, Jamie served as State Representative for the 37th Middlesex district, after being the only “Clean Elections” candidate (publicly funded campaign) to be elected to public office in Massachusetts history in November 2002. Jamie is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Boston College Law School.

With years of service on organizations like the Acton Conservation Trust, Nashua River Watershed Association, Organization for the Assabet River and the SuAsCo Watershed Community Council, Eldridge has long been a strong advocate for policies designed to protect our clean water supply and natural environment. Most recently, Eldridge helped pass legislation upgrading water infrastructure across the Commonwealth through his work with the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, which he served as Chair.

Legislative Aide Ms. Paula Costa:

Paula has worked as Senator Jamie Eldridge’s Legislative Aide and Environmental Liaison since January of 2015. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Policy at The George Washington University, focusing in part on environmental policy. Paula’s passion for helping others has led her to a career in public service, where she works to strengthen public policy and address the needs of constituents.

Student researchers

(Left): Kelsey Regan, Brian D’Amore, and Julia Holtzman

What we did

We worked in collaboration with The Office of Senator James Eldridge on components for a new underground storage tank (UST) spill cleanup policy in Massachusetts. This policy aims to address abutting homeowners affected from a spill. We configured the necessary components based on research of other state UST cleanup laws. The table below shows the eight states we researched. We found Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York offer comprehensive language for UST cleanups that protect third parties impacted.

Table for Web.2

What we found

  1. Massachusetts offers $1 million for third party damages from UST spills. However, the third parties must bring an action in court in order to receive access to this money. New York and New Jersey both offer direct access to property loss damages for third party damages.
  2. Depending on the state and the severity of the spill, the Licensed Site Professional and a state agency official will discuss the cleanup procedure beforehand. This proactive approach helps to reduce costs and ensure a timely cleanup.
  3. Outreach to third parties affected by an UST spill varies. For example, Massachusetts has little communication with affected homeowners, while New Jersey has much more outreach.
  4. The state agency may appoint an official to oversee the entire UST cleanup process. Massachusetts rarely assigns an official, but New Hampshire and Florida do assign an official under specific circumstances.
  5. UST spills in Massachusetts would be cleaned up more efficiently with a more comprehensive UST policy.

What we recommend

  1. Homeowners affected by UST spills spreading to their properties should have direct access to property loss damages without having to bring an action in court. We recommend modeling this component after New Jersey and New York, which allow those affected to submit a claim directly to the fund.
  2. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection needs a series of requirements for community outreach about UST spills. In Massachusetts, affected homeowners are left in the dark about the cleanup process and gasoline contamination on their properties. We recommend modeling a new public outreach program after New Jersey.
  3. A future WPI student group, or legislative aide should continue research on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection involvement in the UST cleanup. Other states assign a state agency official to oversee the cleanup when natural resources, such as groundwater, are impacted. Massachusetts rarely assigns an official to oversee cases.
  4. A legislative aide should continue research into challenges faced when passing comprehensive UST policies in various states.

Final video

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