What lies beneath: Concern grows over Michigan's 8K aging underground storage tanks

Posted at 8:23 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 20:23:48-04

(WXYZ) — They are commonly called legacy tanks, having stored fuel and other chemicals underground prior to current regulations. Yet, today their volume and environmental impact has experts deeply troubled.

“I’d just be concerned with it getting into our drinking water and kids outside," said Samantha Lyon.

As a mother of young kids, Samantha is one of many parents closely watching over environmental concerns here in Flat Rock and statewide.

"I don’t know how to locate them, but we have to find them and clean them up," she said.

As we’ve been reporting, a pair of steel tanks buried under Flat Rock Metal are believed be the source of a recent fuel leak, spotted by a fisherman in a tributary to the Huron River.

RELATED: Nearly 100-year-old underground tank the source of spill into Huron River in Flat Rock

The tanks, which immediately sparked a swift containment and cleanup effort along with a park closure, are now identified as part of a larger issue in Michigan: roughly 8,000 aging, leaky underground storage tanks and far more contaminated sites, according to the state.

"Of the 24,000 contaminated sites, 8,000 are leaky underground storage tanks. If there’s a property transaction and the owner knows about contamination, they are legally required to disclose it," said Jill Greenberg with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, pointing to a need for more funding to address a large gap in keeping track of unregistered sites like Flat Rock.

State leaders also see a current budget of $163 million falling short of what’s needed and acknowledge tanks as much as 100 years old were often left by companies no longer in business.

When asked what can be done to keep better track of these tanks and prevent issues in the future, Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) says, "we record everything, put it in properly, keep track of it.”

Other leaders at the state & federal level agree it’s an urgent crisis that simply can’t wait and say it’s the type of issue infrastructure dollars must be used for.

In a statement from EGLE, a spokesperson adds: "EGLE inherited an outdated it system that heavily relied on paper records. We are in the process of upgrading our system and that will allow us to categorize, cross reference and track the contaminated properties we know about.”

Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) says, “we have a large surplus of money now in our state and we need to make sure we are using that money to address these concerns. Now, is a moment where we can do that to ensure the safety of our state.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell says the tanks in Flat Rock were 100 years old. "Nobody had a record of them. I'm sure there's situations like that all over the state," she said.

The state’s Office of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is also working with EGLE to address this matter.

At this point, the state remains focused on holding current property owners accountable, regardless of how old those tanks may be. That said, what’s been uncovered continues to drive conversation about how best to move forward.