Underground storage tank

Concerns about contaminated water made headlines again this past week when the state updated its advisories for two industrial chemicals present in groundwater in St. Paul’s eastern suburbs and Bemdiji.

But what about groundwater around here? No major problems have surfaced to date.

Still, anyone with a well near their home or place of business will likely be interested in a database operated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The database, which lists thousands of leaking underground storage tanks — called LUSTs, for short — can be found at https://tinyurl.com/m4csb7b.

One need not be a geologist or engineer to understand what’s there.

In fairly easy-to-understand language, the site lists leaking and registered tank sites that have been reported throughout the state. Each tank is assigned a state ID. If you weren’t in the tank industry, it’s likely you might never know about this site.

Apparently the MPCA thinks this is important information that should be accessible to all. So do we. The database makes it much more difficult for private tank owners and others with vested interests in them to keep this information secret.

One of the most fascinating things about this site is the number of leaking tanks that have been reported in or near our communities, 64 in Hutchinson; Glencoe, 53; Litchfield, 36; Dassel and Cosmos, both with 14; Brownton, 10; Silver Lake, nine; Stewart, eight; and Darwin, five.

As one might expect, the database features tanks at gas stations, fuel suppliers and public utilities.

But there are surprises. Schools are also listed, along with churches, nursing homes, hospitals, you name it. They’ve all had leaking tanks.

The data explain when each leak was reported and whether remediation has taken place. It also describes what has leaked: gasoline, fuel oil or a chemical.

Most importantly, it indicates whether the leak has contaminated groundwater, and more dangerously, the community’s drinking water supply. Contamination of the groundwater might not necessarily be a threat to public health if that groundwater is used for nothing other than sprinkling lawns. Many private, shallow environmental wells exist, some around only 20 feet deep.

But serious trouble could occur if contamination reaches a community’s drinking water supply.

Hutchinson residents who study the database might remember the three gas stations that stood along State Highway 7 until the highway was widened 10 years ago. Leaks were reported at all three, with groundwater contamination reported at two of the sites. The database says it is “unknown” if drinking water contamination has occurred.

The five wellheads that supply Hutchinson residents with drinking water are only a block from those three former gas stations.

So is that a worry? There’s really no reason for alarm, says Hutchinson environmental manager John Paulson.

For one thing, Paulson said, soil near the surface — such as that below the former gas station sites — tends to drain toward the nearest body of water, which in this case is the Crow River, not the water plant. The water plant is uphill from the former gas stations.

Moreover, if the Minnesota Department of Health were concerned about those leaks, it would have instructed the city to test for that contamination. It has not done so.

Finally, the city’s wellheads are between 400 and 475 feet below the surface. Because of that depth and because of the intense, water-holding clay under Hutchinson, any contamination near the surface is not likely to reach the city’s water pumps anytime soon — estimated at about 4,000 years.

Still, contamination has the potential to reach the underground drinking supply if it finds its way to the city’s wellheads, such as through a privately owned, super-deep well or through the city’s own well casings. That’s unlikely, Paulson again noted, because the former site of the three gas stations is downhill from the municipal water plant.

The beauty of the MPCA’s database is that all of this information helps the public hold accountable all tank owners and others who are responsible for the future use of land where tanks have leaked.

Check it out.