Wal-Mart Probed Over Florida Environmental Hazards

Retailer possibly violated Florida state tank laws

By Greg C. Bruno, Sun Staff Writer

(gainesville sun)

The florida department of environmental protection is investigating more than a third of florida's wal-mart facilities for possible violations of the state's petroleum storage tank laws, agency officials said friday.

Since 1998, regulations have required most above-ground fuel tanks used by gas stations, auto-repair facilities and other service providers to be registered with the state at the time of their installation. many wal-marts, including supercenters with oil-and-lube operations, and retail stores with backup power generators, have on-site fuel storage tanks.

Businesses with tanks on their property also must prove they have the financial resources to pay for a cleanup if a spill occurs.

But in as many as 75 wal-mart locations statewide, dep officials said, the company appears to have failed to comply with one or more of florida's tank laws.

The oversight means that for as many as five years, the environmental agency was unaware of the company's on-site fuel sources and unable to ensure they were operating properly.

"If the state doesn't know it's there, and there is a leak from the system, and the leak enters florida's ground or surface water, it could be an expensive cleanup and have potential impacts to human health," said marshall mott-smith, administrator of florida's storage tank regulation division.

Daphne Moore, a wal-mart spokeswoman, said the retailer is working with the state to address the concerns.

"It is a situation that we are aware of," Moore said. "we hired an outside consultant to regulate all the tanks and evaluate all the tanks as well."

Moore said that varying regulations between states led to the company's failure to comply with florida laws.

"Once we became aware of the need to register these tanks we did so," she said.

Roughly 92 percent of the state's drinking water is supplied by groundwater. to protect this valuable yet vulnerable resource, florida has adopted some of the toughest petroleum contamination prevention and cleanup laws in the country. In 1983, florida become one of the first states nationwide to regulate above- and below-ground storage tank systems.

Today, all of the state's regulated tanks are required to provide secondary confinement - in essence a tank within a tank - to ensure against accidental leakage.

To enforce state laws, dep contracts inspection duties to private businesses or governmental agencies in all 67 counties. in most cases, inspectors are pulled from the ranks of local environmental offices. in alachua county, staff with the environmental protection department conduct the reviews.

The annual regulatory compliance checks mandated by the state are impossible to perform when tank owners fail to register them, dep officials say. with wal-mart, because the company never informed the environmental agency when the tanks were installed, state inspectors were unaware of their existence, mott-smith said.

On friday, officials with the storage tank regulation division would not release the locations of the stores under investigation, citing legal issues. but Mott-Smith said stores under review included supercenters - which often have tire and lube express services - as well as smaller retail stores.

wal-mart stores that sell food and require refrigeration typically have above-ground fuel tanks inside their stores to power backup generators, he said.

Tim Ramsey, alachua county's tank program coordinator, said gainesville's two wal-mart stores had not been included in the state review.

Mott-Smith also said that none of the stores being investigated had shown evidence of past or present leaks. however, failure to comply with florida's financial responsibility requirements could bring fines of as much as $5,000 per violation, he said.

A meeting is scheduled with the state's tanks program supervisors this week to discuss how to proceed.

this article was published with the consent of the gainesville sun.