The federal government is suing to compel 20 gas stations to safeguard underground storage tanks that are at risk of leaking hazardous chemicals.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman filed a civil lawsuit May 1 in federal court in Manhattan against Chestnut Petroleum Dist. Inc. of New Paltz, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Underground storage tanks are a safe way to store gasoline, but when they are not monitored closely, the complaint states, “they can endanger the public and the environment … by leaking petroleum into the water supply, discharging toxic vapors into the air or even triggering fires or explosions.”
The alleged violations occurred from 2011 to 2014. Many of the infractions are paperwork and procedural matters, but in some cases, the government contends, the company failed to investigate suspected leaks or unusual conditions.
Chestnut Petroleum did not immediately respond to email and voicemail messages requesting comment.
The gas stations are in Ardsley, the Bronx, Eastchester, East Middletown, Gardiner, Greenburgh, Middletown, Mount Pleasant, Orangeburg, Pougkeepsie, Schenectady, Rhinebeck, Wappingers Falls, as well as five New Jersey locations.
They operate under several corporate names but are alter egos of one another, the government states.
“The similarities in the nature and timing of the violations stems from the fact that all of the facilities,” according to the complaint, “exist within the same corporate structure and are overseen by the same personnel, who failed to ensure statutory and regulatory compliance in the same ways.”
Chestnut Petroleum is a family-owned enterprise founded in 1981, according to its website, and has grown to 200 gas stations and convenience stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The government cites Chestnut Petroleum for failures to maintain records, detect leaks and spills, inspect and test corrosion protection systems, cap and secure temporarily closed tanks, report or confirm suspected leaks, or maintain insurance policies that would compensate anyone harmed by accidental leaks and spills.
In 2011, for instance, the company allegedly failed to report or inspect a potential leak in an underground tank at a Mobil station at 891 Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley for seven months. A contractor eventually found a diesel fuel leak and fixed it more than a year after an alarm had indicated a leak.
Petroleum products that leak from underground tanks can move rapidly through the ground and into the groundwater, the complaint states. Petroleum vapors can contaminate nearby buildings.
Petroleum contains compounds that pose serious health risks. Benzene, for instance, is a carcinogen that can also affect the central nervous system and even cause death, when ingested. Chronic exposure to toluene can cause tremors and impair speech, hearing, vision, memory and coordination.
The government is asking the court to order the companies to comply with federal regulations on underground storage tanks and to mitigate prior violations. It is asking for unspecified penalties.
The regulations allow fines up to $16,000 a day per violation.
Berman filed the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Assistant U.S. attorneys Christopher Connolly and Jennifer C. Simon are prosecuting the case, with assistance from the EPA.