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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

United States Announces Settlement With Suffolk County To Remedy Federal Leak Prevention Violations At The County’s Underground Storage Tanks

County To Pay $2 Million

Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Judith A. Enck, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2, today announced the settlement with Suffolk County (Suffolk) in a federal civil environmental lawsuit alleging that Suffolk violated the federal leak prevention requirements for underground storage tanks at 35 facilities that the County has owned or operated.  The violations involve 68 underground storage tanks, which contain gasoline or waste oil in generally large quantities and can cause serious environmental damage if allowed to leak.  

All of the facilities at which Suffolk has owned or operated underground storage tanks are located within the boundaries of a federally-designated Sole Source Aquifer, which, among other criteria, is an aquifer that supplies at least 50% of the drinking water consumed within the Sole Source Aquifer boundaries.  The Sole Source Aquifer designation is a tool to protect drinking water supplies in areas with few or no alternative sources to the groundwater resources, and where, if contamination occurred, using an alternative source would be extremely expensive.  The violations alleged in the complaint do not pose an immediate threat to the drinking water of Suffolk’s residents.  However, Suffolk’s compliance with the federal leak prevention requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is vital to ensure the integrity of tanks and to prevent the release of petroleum product to soil and groundwater. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Suffolk violated RCRA’s hazardous waste management requirements by improper handling of used fluorescent lamps at its facilities.  Compliance with these requirements is essential to minimize the present and future threat to human health and the environment of hazardous waste.

Under the Consent Judgment, lodged today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Suffolk County will pay a civil monetary penalty of $500,000 to the United States.  Suffolk will also fund a Supplemental Environmental Project in the amount of $1,500,000 to acquire an interest in land, and to manage such land and any associated ecological resources, into perpetuity, to protect or enhance groundwater.  This project will secure significant environmental and public health benefits for Suffolk’s residents, including protecting Suffolk County’s sole source aquifer, and enhancing the condition of the ecosystem.  

While the settlement was being negotiated, Suffolk undertook measures to achieve compliance with RCRA that the EPA has valued at approximately $2,900,000.  This included replacement and upgrade of automated release detection systems, removal and closure of obsolete tanks, upgrade and renovation of fueling stations, adding inventory control equipment at fueling sites, conducting training and inspections, and cleanup and restoration of a fuel spill at one of Suffolk’s facilities.  Under the Consent Judgment, Suffolk has committed to remain in compliance with RCRA requirements for all of its underground storage tanks and in its handling of used fluorescent lamps, and to submit regular reports to the EPA to demonstrate that it is in compliance.  The EPA has estimated the value of these future compliance measures at approximately $1,115,000.   

“Suffolk County’s residents are entitled to full protection of the laws and regulations designed to protect our water, our environment, and our citizens from risk of contamination from gasoline.  Suffolk’s commitment to maintain compliance with those laws and to fund the acquisition of an interest in land that will be perpetually managed to protect and enhance groundwater provides a significant benefit to Suffolk’s residents,” stated United States Attorney Lynch.  “This Consent Judgment will ensure that Suffolk County’s groundwater, the sole source aquifer for Suffolk County, is protected from releases from Suffolk’s underground storage tanks.”

“As a result of this settlement, the health of people living in communities throughout Suffolk County will be better protected from the threat of petroleum contamination to ground water," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "Under this agreement, the county will come into compliance with Federal Hazardous Waste Laws, including those laws aimed at preventing leaks of underground petroleum storage tanks, and will undertake a $1.5 million land conservation program to preserve and protect a major source of Long Island's drinking water."

The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period, and to be become effective, it must be approved by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sandra L. Levy.  EPA is represented by Assistant Regional Counsel Stuart Keith.

Updated July 2, 2015