Washington Department of Ecology

State of Washington Department of Ecology

The Washington Department of Ecology does not regulate the use or operation of residential heating oil tanks, like the State of Oregon does. However, some local governments may have different requirements or guidelines that may apply to residential storage tanks. Regulations and policies vary from place to place and may change from time to time.

Are there specific concerns I should have as a homeowner if I have an abandoned oil tank on my property?

  • Tanks can develop holes and release heating oil into the soil. The released oil can contaminate groundwater, surface water, storm sewers, and cause vapor problems in nearby buildings. Under the state Model Toxics Control Act, the tank owner may be held liable for damage caused by a leaking tank.
  • Corrosion can cause underground tanks to deteriorate, making cave-ins a possibility. The homeowner could be held liable for injuries caused by a cave-in.
  • Before finalizing the sale of a house, lending institutions and home buyers may want sellers to remove or “close” unused heating oil tanks. To “close” a heating oil tank, the homeowner has the tank cleaned out and filled. The tank is then left buried in the ground.
Washington Department of Ecology

Washington Department of Ecology – tank found within a backyard in Vancouver, vent pipe can be found running along the side of the house to the left of the window. The sampling of this tank resulted in a Risk Based Clean-Up.

How does Ecology prefer decommissioning take place?

Ecology recommends that the tank is removed with proper soil samples taken, and remediation, if necessary. However, decommissioning the tank in-place is also acceptable, as long as soil samples take place and remediation is completed, if necessary.

Can I decommission my tank as a homeowner?

There is no law prohibiting homeowners from doing their own decommissioning. Although, Ecology does not recommend doing the tank work yourself because of the potential safety risks. Hiring an experienced contractor is advised, as working on an underground storage tank can be dangerous. Under certain conditions, tanks can explode. Working in the excavation pit, cutting open or handling heavy tanks, and using power equipment also pose risks to the homeowner. Ecology recommends that homeowners hire an experienced contractor to perform decommissioning work.

Leaking tanks and the State of Washington Department of Ecology

What if a tank has leaked?

Knowingly using a leaking tank is negligence. If you discover that your tank is leaking you must take immediate action to stop the leak. In most cases where a tank has leaked, only the soil near the tank is affected. Sometimes, however, the heating oil may also have contaminated groundwater or surface water. It is the homeowners or contractors responsibility to:

  • Evaluate the extent of contamination caused by the leak
  • Evaluate the extent of the contamination caused by the leak
  • Determine if it is a threat to human health and the environment
  • Clean-up any contamination caused by the leak

Should I report the leak to Ecology?

Minor Leaks or Spills that affect only the soil near the residential heating oil tank do not have to reported to the Department of Ecology.   However, if the minor leak was discovered during the process of the tank being decommissioned, Ecology does recommend reporting the minor spill through the ERTS program.

Contaminated Soil above 2000 PPM does need to be reported to the Department of Ecology. Any groundwater, surface water, free product or vapor intrusion should also be noted during the reporting process.

How do I report a leak to Ecology?

All confirmed releases must be reported to the Washington Department of Ecology within 24 hours to the ERTS SYSTEM. A leak can be reported via a phone call or through the online reporting system.

Should I clean-up contamination?

Absolutely, and the Department of Ecology recommends that homeowners hire a qualified clean-up contractor to perform the remediation. When the clean-up has been completed, the contractor should give the homeowner a copy of the clean-up report. Clean-up reports of minor leaks do not need to be sent to Ecology, as they do not track or report on these clean-ups. Clean-up reports on more extensive leaks do need to be sent to the Ecology regional office, as they do keep track of and report on these sites. All reports should be kept by the homeowner for their records and the remaining life of the property.

Does the Department of Ecology have a LUST list like the State of Oregon?

Yes, it is called the Confirmed and Suspected Contaminated Site List (CSCSL). However, the majority of the sites on this list are large properties, with larger leaks (i.e. gas stations). It is extremely rare when a residential property does appear on this list, reasons that a site would appear on CSCSL is as follows:

  • When a property has been reported, but after 90 days, no closure and/or continued work to complete the remediation has taken place.
  • If groundwater has been encountered, the property automatically gets put on the CSCSL. The homeowner/contractor then has to go through the voluntary clean-up to get taken off the list. Ecology then works with the homeowner/contractor to get off the list by providing opinions on the work being completed and to verify if meets the status of no further action.

Additional Website Links:

PLIA in Washington State

PLIA Insurance Coverage

In 1995 the Washington Legislature added pollution liability coverage for heating oil tanks to PLIAs responsibilities. PLIA in Washington State assists owners of underground storage tanks to provide available and affordable insurance through a state administered reinsurance program. The program was created in response to the rising number of heating oil tank releases and the significant impact contamination had on property values, as well as the environment. When a clean-up has been completed, PLIA will provide homeowners with a Letter of Finding which states that the site has met the clean-up standards defined in the Model Toxics Control Act.

PLIA can also assist homeowners with the following information:

  • Verifying the validity of required declarations of financial responsibility
  • Provide advice and technical assistance regarding liability and clean-up requirements

What is covered when insured through PLIA?

  • Up to $60,000 to clean-up contamination, not covered by other insurance, on your property and/or a neighboring property
  • The contamination must come from a leak that starts after a heating oil tank is registered with PLIA. The tank may be a UST or an AST
  • The tank must be registered in the current owners name
  • Reimbursement up to $1500 to repair damages on neighboring property (third party coverage) such as landscaping, flooring, painting, etc.

What is NOT covered through PLIA?

  • Leaks from abandoned or previously decommissioned tanks
  • Leaks that start before registering with PLIA
  • Property restoration on your property (first party coverage)
  • Removal/repair/replacement of the tank/lines/furnace
  • Emergency heat restoration
  • Heating oil lost in the release

How do you apply for insurance through PLIA?

  • No cost to register
  • Must complete and submit to PLIA the PLIA registration form
  • You must be registered with PLIA prior to the start of any accidental release in order for the clean-up to be covered
  • When PLIA receives the completed registration form, you will be mailed a confirmation. If confirmation is not received within 14 days, contact PLIA at 1-800-822-3905 or 360-407-0520

How to file a claim through PLIA

  • If a release is suspected or confirmed from your registered heating oil tank, PLIA must be contacted at 1-800-822-3905 or 360-407-0520 within 30 calendar days from the date the tank is disconnected from the furnace.
  • PLIA will investigate the claim, which may include taking photos of your property and the failed tank
  • Owner will hire an approved contractor to do the clean-up
  • All work must be approved by PLIA before the work starts

Who is the Policy through?

  • The Pollution Liability Insurance is covered through The Colony Insurance Company, please click the link to read about the WA Pollution Liability Policy

PLIA Insurance Coverage and Soil Sampling

How to get started, obtaining soil samples through a site assessment

  • The heating oil tank owner must select a service provider to perform the site assessment and is responsible for payment of all costs associated with soil sampling.
  • PLIA will interpret and provide a report to the owner with the results of the soil testing. Each report will provide the following information:
    • No apparent contamination that poses a threat to human health and the environment, no further action is required.
    • Minor contamination is present at the site and further site assessment or clean-up may be required.
    • Serious contamination is present, appears to pose a threat to human health and the environment, immediate corrective action is required.

What are the costs associated with the insurance through PLIA?

  • PLIA in Washington State insurance coverage is required to collect from the tank owner, requesting technical assistance, the costs incurred in providing assistance.
  • Costs incurred may include travel costs and expenses associated with monitoring site assessments, review of reports and analyses and preparation of written opinions and conclusions.
  • The Technical Assistance cost is $350.00 and must be paid in full prior to PLIA issuing its report of review and assessment of data.

Additional PLIA informational websites:

Heating Oil Technical Assistance Program (HOTAP) through PLIA Insurance Coverage

If a tank owner DOES NOT have insurance through PLIA, and it is determined that their tank is leaking, is there anything that PLIA can assist with?

Yes, even if the leaking tank is not covered by the Heating Oil Insurance Program through PLIA, a homeowner can request assistance on tank removal and environmental clean-up under the Heating Oil Technical Assistance Program (HOTAP).

How can HOTAP help my uninsured leaking UST?

Through HOTAP, PLIA can provide advice and technical assistance to owners of active or abandoned heating oil tanks if contamination resulting from a release is suspect. Advice and assistance may include:

  • Review of clean-up plans and reports
  • Interpretation of results from soil sampling through a site assessment or site check
  • An opinion letter from PLIA to the owner regarding the results of the testing

How does HOTAP work?

  • The owner of the UST will perform soil sampling, through a site check or site assessment. The owner of the tank may chose a service provider of their choice to perform any and all site work at the property. The tank owner is responsible for payment of all costs associated with soil sampling, site assessment and remediation.
  • Once sampling has been completed, the results of all testing must be forwarded to PLIA for review and evaluation. A copy of the service provider’s field notes must also be forwarded to PLIA.
  • If testing and remediation has been completed prior to PLIAs review, PLIA will consider providing a review and evaluation of the data. PLIA considers how recently the testing and remediation was completed and will consider the methods of the assessment prior to agreeing to review and evaluate the results.
  • Upon completion of review and evaluation, PLIA will provide an opinion letter informing the owner of the review and assessment of the data. The opinion letter from PLIA will provide the following opinions:
    • Property Further Action Opinion Letter– further remedial action is necessary at the property to clean-up contamination and remediation action is also necessary elsewhere at the site
    • Property No Further Action Opinion Letter – no further remedial action is necessary at the property to clean-up contamination at the site and that further remedial action is still necessary elsewhere at the site
    • Site Further Action Opinion Letter – further remedial action is necessary to clean-up contamination at the site
    • Site No Further Action Opinion Letter – no further remedial action is necessary to clean-up contamination at the site

What is the cost for HOTAP?

The fee for the Heating Oil Technical Assistance Program is $350.00. This fee covers the cost incurred in providing advice and assistance, expenses, review of reports and analysis, and preparation of written opinions and conclusions. The fee must be paid in full prior to PLIA issuing its report of review and assessment of data.

As a homeowner, I’ve discovered my tank has leaked but I’m not registered with PLIA.  I can now register in the HOTAP program to receive a review of the testing results and a letter from PLIA “closing the site”?  This is at a cost of $350?  All other out-of-pocket expenses; sampling, remediation, etc. come out of my pocket?

Yes, to all three questions.

My leaking tank is not registered with PLIA and I opt NOT to join HOTAP, as long as I’ve registered with Ecology I’m fine, correct?

No, the site still needs to be addressed and remediation is required. If a homeowner would like a letter stating the site has been closed through PLIA, they would need to enter into the HOTAP program.

I’m selling my home and the buyer has performed a tank search, and a tank has been found. Can I now register the abandoned tank with PLIA?

No, abandoned tanks CANNOT be registered with PLIA  in Washington State. Only active tanks are eligible for the program.

Soil Sampling in Washington

Soil Sampling in Washington State

Like Oregon, in order to determine if a tank is currently or has previously leaked, an investigative process needs to take place through soil sampling. Again, showcasing the differences between the two states, soil sampling in Washington State separates this function into either a Site Check or a Site Assessment.

Additionally, when the initial soil sampling takes place, to determine if contamination is present, the State of Washington requires a minimum of three (3) samples be taken. One sample must be taken from each end of the tank and the third sample must be taken from the middle of one side of the tank. This is unlike OR, in that, the DEQ requires only two (2) samples be taken from each end of the tank. The three (3) soil sampling requirements are the same as when decommissioning an underground storage tank in place or by removal, as long as no obvious contamination is discovered.

Soil Sampling in Washington

Soil Sampling in Washington – three (3) soil samples are taken in a Washington UST. A sample must be taken from each end of the tank and one from either side of the tank in the middle.

Site Check is the investigation of an underground storage tank site for the presence of a release when evidence indicates that a release may have occurred, but existence of such a release has not been confirmed. Once the existence of a release has been confirmed, the release shall be reported to the State of Washington Department of Ecology.

Examples for a site check include:

  • Environmental contamination may be suspected and can include, but not limited to, constituents in soils, basement, groundwater and/or surface waters.
  • If environmental contamination is discovered off site and a UST is a suspected source of the release, the department may require a site check to confirm whether the UST system is the source of the release.

Site Assessment is an investigation to determine if a release has occurred: it may be required as part of a routine closure, change-in-service, and temporary closure extension, or as directed by the Department of Ecology.

  • For the purpose of a real estate transaction or to determine the state of an in-use or abandoned underground storage tank, a site assessment is conducted.
  • If an UST System is being decommissioned in-place or removed, a site assessment must be conducted after the UST system is emptied and cleaned and all liquid and accumulated sludge has been removed. While removed, a site assessment must be conducted following tank removal.
  • If a UST system was permanently closed or abandoned before December 22, 1988 and the department determines that suspected releases from the UST system may pose a current or potential threat to human health or the environment, the department may require a site assessment to be conducted. If an abandoned tank contains product, a site assessment is required.
  • Owner/operator applies to the department to extend a temporary closure of an UST system beyond 12 months, a site assessment must be completed before the application extension will be considered.

Leaking Soil Samples in Washington State

Contamination has been verified through soil sampling, within 24 hours the leak must be reported to the Department of Ecology. Department of Ecology reporting can either be completed through contacting the state directly or through their online system.  Once the contamination submission has been received by the State, an ERTS number will be given to the person who reported the leak. The ERTS number will also be forwarded to PLIA, as PLIA has an agreement with Ecology to evaluate the adequacy of any independent clean-up action performed by the requirements in the Model Toxics Control Act.

PLIA, can also provide homeowners the option of insuring their underground storage tanks before they leak, as well as helping after a leak has been discovered. Please see detailed information on our PLIA informational page.

UST Soil Sampling

UST Soil Sampling Common Questions

Whether a tank search has resulted in a UST being discovered or if there is an in-service tank on the property, EcoTech highly recommends soil sampling be completed around the tank.

If you are a buyer, it is imperative for you to obtain soil samples on the underground storage tank, as once you purchase the property, you have now purchased the UST and if it is leaking, are now responsible for the clean-up.

If you are a seller or a homeowner thinking about selling, and you know you have an UST on your property, preemptive soil samples will allow you prepare for pre-inspection complications.

For more information on underground storage tanks and real estate transactions, please see the DEQ Buying or Selling guide for helpful tips DEQs Buying or Selling a Home with a UST

What if a UST is found?

Soil Samples are recommended. Per Oregon DEQ, the best way to determine if a UST has leaked, is to have soil samples collected from under each end of the tank and have the samples analyzed for diesel and heavy oil. Each sample should be analyzed at an independent laboratory that is DEQ certified.

UST Soil Sampling

UST Soil Sampling – Rendition of technician taking soil samples 12-24″ beneath an underground storage tank.

UST Soil Sampling

UST Soil Sampling – Sampling tubes filled with soil from around an underground storage tank. The soil is then placed in a jar and sent to the lab for testing.

There is an in-service tank, should I perform soil samples?

As a prospective buyer, it is essential to test a tank before purchasing the property to determine if it has leaked or is currently leaking. The current property owner is responsible for any necessary contamination clean-up from a leaking underground storage tank. Purchasing a property without testing a tank makes you, as the new property owner, liable for a prior or currently leaking UST.

I’m selling my home and the buyer has found a tank, what are the next steps for me?

EcoTech recommends that you decommission the tank and register it with DEQ. Although, through our experience, buyers and their agents will require at a minimum proof of clean soil samples.

Types of Soil Samples

What are the type of UST soil samples? 

There are three different categories that sample results can be placed into:

Non-Detect (ND)

In-service tank: samples that were analyzed have come back as non-detect and no further tests are necessary. EcoTech does recommend that the decades old tank be decommissioned and a new heat source chosen, as soon as it is practical, before the tank does leak.

Out-of-service tanks: samples that were analyzed have come back as non-detect and no further tests are necessary. EcoTech does recommend that the out-of-service tank be decommissioned within 90 days of the soil samples and registered with DEQ.

*For both the in-service and out-of-service non-detect samples that were taken from each end of the UST, does not rule out the possibility of contamination underneath the soils of the tank, that is why EcoTech recommends decommissioning of the UST.*

50 PPM (parts per million) or less

In-service tank: samples that were analyzed indicate that a leak is present. Although this is a low detection and it is not reportable to DEQ, it indicates a leak has started and should be a concern. EcoTech highly recommends that the tank be taken out-of-service and decommissioned and registered with the DEQ.

Out-of-service tank: samples that were analyzed indicate that a leak is present. Although this is a low detection and it is not reportable to DEQ, it indicates a leak has started and should be a concern. EcoTech recommends that the out-of-service tank be decommissioned and registered with DEQ.

50.1 PPM or Greater

In-service or out-of-service tanks: “The OR DEQ requires that any site where a soil sample analysis shows petroleum concentrations of 50 PPM or greater, must be reported to the DEQ within 72 hours. Remediation will be determined based on the extent of the contamination.” Simply put, the tank is leaking above the reporting limit, EcoTech is required to report the leak to the DEQ, corrective action is now needed to clean-up the site.

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning Common Questions

 

What does it mean to decommission a UST?

The most generic term, is to take the tank out of service.  Underground Storage Tank or UST decommissioning is accomplished by ensuring the tank has been properly cleaned and removed or completely filled with an inert material. The inert material consists either of perlite, a sand-like material or slurry, concrete.

If the tank is to be registered with DEQ, two soil samples will be taken from inside the bottom of the tank, after being pumped and cleaned, and analyzed for diesel and heavy oil. Each sample needs to be analyzed at an independent laboratory that is DEQ certified.

If the samples come back as non-detected, the tank can be then registered with the DEQ.

If the samples come back above the DEQ reporting limit (50.1 PPM), remediation will need to take place and once the corrective action has been completed, the tank will be registered with DEQ.  If soil remediation is need, please see our Decommissioning via Heating Oil Contaminated Soil Clean-Up page.

Why should homeowners decommission their UST and register it with the DEQ

I’ve emptied my tank of oil years ago and don’t use it any more, doesn’t that mean it is decommissioned?

No, in order to decommission the tank you will need to take the tank permanently out of service. This is completed by either removing the tank or filling it in place with an inert material.

Can I decommission my own UST?

According to the DEQ, it is legal for a homeowner to decommission their own UST, assuming that you perform the work yourself and comply with all applicable local, state and federal rules. Before deciding to decommission your own tank, the DEQ highly recommends that you read the DEQ Cleanup Guidance for Homeowners to understand the full scope of work involved in completing a decommissioning project. DEQ Decommissioning Guide for Homeowners

I’m selling my home and have switched over to gas years ago, should I decommission my tank?

It is not a requirement to decommission your tank before selling your home. Unfortunately in this highly active real estate market, many buyers will require at a minimum, proof of recent clean soil samples. Additionally, you will need to provide the buyer with documentation that the tank has been pumped of all of its contents. DEQ Out of Service Tank Requirements

Do I have to decommission my UST?

No, it is not a requirement to decommission your tank once you stop using it.  However, if you are thinking about selling your home, most buyers and their agents request decommissioning and registration before closing. Per DEQ, you will need to ensure that the tank has been emptied of oil and you will need to provide that documentation to the new buyer.  DEQ Requirements for Tanks No Longer in Use

Do I have to register my UST?

It is not required by DEQ to register the tank, but it is highly recommended. However, if you are decommissioning the tank as part of the sale of the home, this is usually a prerequisite prior to closing.

Why should I register my UST?

There are three primary benefits of registering the UST decommissioning with the DEQ:

  1. The decommissioning becomes public record.  So, even if your copy of the paperwork is misplaced or the name of the contractor that performed the work is forgotten, the record remains in the DEQ files.
  2. When the DEQ changes any of their rules (i.e. reporting limits, remediation guidelines, etc.), previously closed or registered tanks are “grandfathered” in.  Tanks that were decommissioned and not registered are subject to the new rules.  For example, over time the DEQ required the locations of soil sampling to change.  Meaning a previously unregistered decommissioned tank, would need to obtain additional soil samples to bring the tank up to the new DEQ sampling requirements.
  3. Most buyers are requiring DEQ registration because they don’t want to deal with future DEQ rule changes.  Even if you don’t plan to sell the property any time soon, registering the tank now can prevent added costs prior to and during a future sale.

I have a tank that was decommissioned years ago, but never registered with the DEQ, how do I now get it registered?

In order to establish if the tank has been decommissioned properly, soil samples and a tank inspection would be required. Soil samples need to be taken in order to determine if the tank had leaked prior to decommissioning. A tank inspection is necessary to establish if the tank has been decommissioned properly.

If the soil samples are clean and the tank has been decommissioned properly, the tank then can be registered with the DEQ.

USTs that have been Decommissioned inproperly

What happens if it isn’t decommissioned properly?

There could be a couple of different reasons a tank has not been decommissioned properly.  There may be inadequate or contaminated fill material, water within the tank or simply something that shouldn’t be in the tank (i.e. paint cans, large rocks, etc.).  Besides what is inside the tank, the soil samples will need to be taken into consideration to allow the tank to be certified as decommissioned to register with the DEQ.

  • Fill Material:  If the fill material within the tank is not an approved by the DEQ, that material will need to be removed and the tank will be re-decommissioned to DEQ standards for certification.  The same reasoning will go with contaminated fill material, even if it is DEQ approved material.  The contaminated material will need to be removed and the tank will need to be re-decommissioned to DEQ standards for certification.
  • Water:  If there is water within the tank, all water will be pumped out of the tank and re-decommissioned in order to certify with the DEQ.
  • Unconventional Items:  From time to time, items are found within a tank that should NOT be there.  Items such as large boulders, paint cans, trash cans and even tires have been discovered within a tank.  If this situation does arise, all items will need to be removed and disposed of in a landfill and the tank will need to be decommissioned.
Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning – Concrete, pain cans and water found within a tank.

What exactly do you do to decommission a tank?

In order to decommission an underground storage tank, we need to follow some step-by-step processes to ensure that we are able to take soil samples and inspect the tank properly.  This is the process by which EcoTech begins each in-place underground storage tank decommissioning project:

1.  We dig down, expose the tank and cut it open.

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning – Exposed tank top.

2.  All tank contents are removed; heating oil, residual liquids, sludge.

3.  Clean and dry the tank interior and inspect it for holes.

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning – Holes from within a tank.

4.  Collect soil samples from the inside and through the bottom of the tank.

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning – The technicians cut two holes in the bottom of the tank to expose the soil underneath, two samples are then “grabbed” underneath the tank bottom.

5.  Soil Samples are submitted to the lab the same day for analysis, with results typically back the next business day by noon.

6.  Pending favorable laboratory results (less than 50 PPM), the tank can be backfilled with perlite or slurry.

***If soil sample results come in above the 50 PPM, remediation would be required to bring the site up to DEQ requirements.  (Please see our Heating Oil Contaminated Soil Clean-Up section for additional information on remediation Clean-Up with Decommissioning).

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning

Underground Storage Tank or UST Decommissioning – Tank filled with slurry.

7.  After the tank has been filled, the tank is then covered back over with the previous landscape (i.e. grass, concrete, dirt, etc.).