With May upon us, I’ve been thinking back to May of 1986 when I was hired as a young and naive UST inspector for the state of Vermont. The Green Mountain State had just adopted prototype tank rules a few years before the Federal rules would go into effect. My job was to watch all the old rusty tanks come out of the ground from operators who were trying to beat the pending deadline –mandatory double walled tanks– by removing old single wall tanks and installing new single walled tanks.
My job, after getting properly trained of course, was to climb into tank pits with a PID meter, hard hat and a Buck knife and dig for potential fugitive vaporous soil that the excavator might have missed. I recall the LEL meter only going off once at 10% of the lower explosive limit; those were definitely the Wild West days of UST management.
I recently tried to find my old copy of the Vermont cleanup standards that declared in written policy a high priority leaking UST site was one that you could squeeze a gloved handful of soil and gasoline would ooze out. Hard to believe based on where we are today.
When I do the math I cannot help but cringe that 1986 was 28 years ago. How can someone stay in an industry as peculiar as USTs for almost three decades? The only surviving photos from that era show me in my first hazmat suit in Edison New Jersey and my first floating tank somewhere in central Vermont.
Now look where we are today. Hundreds of thousands of tanks pulled. Spill buckets at every site. Automatic tank gauges at most sites. Mostly better piping, More qualified tank contractors. Smarter inspectors. More pollution coverage and, of course, the hope of all hopes, a trained Class A, B or C UST operator at nearly every site.
Of course will still have problems like leak detection blind spots, fuels that melt UST components, and the ubiquitous ignored fuel alarm. Plus parts still rust and things like shear valves and drain valves fail but all in all I think the industry has matured at an acceptable rate to offer a more promising compliance future.
We’ve come a long way and I know a number of our customers, friends and associates were doing UST work in the late ’80’s. Who are you and what were you doing? Send us a brief story about your 1980’s UST escapades and we’ll give the best storyteller a free coupon for $100 worth of on-line training. Submit your entry by May 10 and stay tuned!