Residential Heating Oil Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Why are underground heating oil tanks a concern?
Q2. Why do underground heating oil tanks corrode?
Q3. Are residential underground heating oil tanks regulated by the law?
Q4. How do I know if a residential property has an underground storage tank?
Q5. We found an underground fuel oil tank, what do we do now?
Q6. How do you test the tank?
Q7. Why test an underground heating oil tank?
Q8. The property I am buying has an underground heating oil tank that was decommissioned (taken out of service). The tank is filled with sand, gravel or foam and contains no oil. The seller has provided permits and reports from the town building inspector stating that the tank was properly abandoned and decommissioned. Is it still necessary to test the soil surrounding the tank to determine whether contamination exists?
Question: My oil tank was removed and I am told that I need remediation. The company did not take any soil samples but said the tank had holes.
Answer: This is a really common scenario, we have a separate page to answer this question that can be reached at the following link:
Q9. If the seller cannot provide any written reports about soil testing, should testing be performed?
Q10. Why test the soil around the tank?
Q11. What is the State’s role?
Q12. What are the steps for cleanup for a heating oil tank leak?
Q13. The property owner said he never used that tank and it was there when he bought it, so he or she is not paying for any testing or removal?
Q14. When an oil tank is removed what is a tank certification?
Q15. What is involved with removing an underground heating oil tank?
Why are underground heating oil tanks a concern?
A1. Historically, petroleum products have been stored in steel Underground Storage Tanks, (UST's). These steel tanks have a finite life expectancy (rust never sleeps) and when corrosion holes breach the tank shell or the welded seams of the tank fail, petroleum will leach into the environment. In response to both state and federal environmental requirements and emerging technology’s, replacement of single wall steel UST's have become a growing trend in order to remove the environmental liabilities associated with Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, (LUST's). Buried heating oil tanks raise a variety of environmental, safety, legal and economic concerns for home owners and home buyers. The largest concerns relating to environmental issues are heating oil leaks that cause soil or groundwater contamination. Economic issues consist of the cost and risks associated with testing, tank removal and site cleanup.
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Why do underground heating oil tanks corrode?
A2. Corrosion is caused by the inherent tendency of iron based metals that most all heating oil underground storage tanks are comprised of, to revert to a stable form. This stable form is what you know as rust. When and how fast steel turns to rust is dependent on a wide variety of variables such as soil moisture, pH acidity, backfill material, physical location of the tank, the thickness of the tank, amount of water in the tank, age of the tank and any scratching or damage occurring during the tank's installation.
Rust never sleeps and eventually all steel tanks will corrode and leak, maybe next week, maybe 20 years from now.
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Are residential underground heating oil tanks regulated by the law?
A3. If you have an underground home heating oil tank installed at a residential property, your tank is exempt from Federal Regulations. Should a home heating oil tank release oil into the environment, then at that point the owner of the tank is no longer exempt from the provisions of environmental regulation governing uncontrolled discharges or releases into the environment. At the time it is discovered that an oil tank has leaked, the property owner would need to take reasonable measures to address the source of the leak/spill and prevent it from spreading and the incident reported to the appropriate agency. In New Jersey the governing agency is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, (NJDEP) not the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) which is a Federal agency and does not have immediate jurisdiction for these types of incidents. If a heating oil discharge has occurred at your home, regardless of the quantity, the owner is required to report the leak to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Calling the NJDEP’s toll free 24 hour Environmental Action Hot Line at 1-877-WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337) as soon as a leak is discovered. After discovery of the tank leak, a subsurface investigation (soil borings and testing) would have to be completed and contingent on the petroleum levels appropriate corrective action (i.e., cleanup/remediation) would need to be initiated to address the tank leak.
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How do I know if a residential property has an underground storage tank?
A4. Typically (85%) of the time there are tell-tale signs of an in ground oil tank such as a visible vent and/or filler pipes, disconnected oil lines coming through the foundation wall which were the supply and return lines from the heating oil tank, a concrete channel may be visible in the basement floor that leads to the furnace area. Any of these physical signs is a good indication of a tank that has been removed or, there is still a tank in the ground.
To be more certain hire an environmental professional who is trained to look for this evidence as well as other key signs and who can also be equipped with a metal detector and a radio frequency locator or ground penetrating radar unit to evaluate a property for a suspect tank (UST).How to find a buried oil tank.
If the house was built between the 1930's and the 1990's, there is a good chance the property had oil heat at some time. At the turn of the century homes had coal heat, which was both dirty and labor intensive. After Word War II, oil was readily available and many homes converted to oil, if only to get away from having to shovel coal.
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We found an underground fuel oil tank, what do we do now?
A5. The phrase let the buyer beware should be listened too and an appropriate investigation of the tank should be performed. If this is a real estate transaction, under no condition purchase the house, no matter how “good the deal is” until the tank is removed and/or ground is tested by a licensed environmental company for any contamination. If the current owner does not have any paperwork on the tank, then assume such paperwork does not exist and an evaluation of the tank will be required.
It should be noted that the vast majority of oil tanks in the ground are not leaking, but tanks like roofs are an expendable items and require replacement. In addition if a buyer fails to investigate a tank and later (after the purchase) finds that the tank has leaked, the cost for cleanup will be the responsibility of the new owner.
If you have an oil tank that is not in use, it should be removed as it serves no useful purpose other than being a concern to a potential purchaser of the property.
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How do you test the tank?
A6. To investigate for the presence of petroleum, three to four soil borings are advanced around the perimeter of the buried tank. Each soil sample is evaluated on the site for petroleum and the sample indicating the highest field screen reading is submitted to a New Jersey certified laboratory for testing. Soils borings rely on the premise that if a tank leaks, oil will be found in the soils next to the tank. Soil borings also allow you to help quantify the extent of the oil in the soil b running soil samples for independent laboratory analysis. For information can be found by clicking the following link:
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Why test an underground heating oil tank?
A7.Testing heating oil Underground Storage Tanks, (USTs) allows home buyers to complete their Due Diligence Investigation, concerning the integrity of the underground petroleum storage tanks.
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The property I am buying has an underground heating oil tank that was decommissioned (taken out of service). The tank is filled with sand, gravel or foam and contains no oil. The seller has provided permits and reports from the town building inspector stating that the tank was properly abandoned and decommissioned. Is it still necessary to test the soil surrounding the tank to determine whether contamination exists?
A8. If a seller provides a report from a state certified environmental company with laboratory results from a state certified laboratory stating that the soil was tested at the time the tank was taken out of service and filled with sand/gravel or foam, additional soil testing would not be necessary as long as the soil tests were acquired from the appropriate locations and analyzed for the proper laboratory analysis. To verify this answer an environmental professional should review this report to ensure it is complete and thorough. If you do not have a statement that the tank did not leak than you have to answer that very important question.
If all you have is a copy of the local permit that the oil tank was removed and approved by the local township, then you STILL do not know if the tank leaked. IT is not the construction departments responsibility to comment on tank leaks it is a different department. So often times a local permit of a tank removal or closure in place of an oil tank incorrectly gives people the opinion that the tank did not leak. Only independent soil testing can confirm that an oil tank leaked. Lets be honest you can tell your cholesterol level without testing so why would testing a tank be any different?
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What are NJDEP soil standards for heating oil tanks?
NJDEP soil standards are as follows:
1. ND (Non Detect) No NJDEP reporting required.
2. <1000 ppm for EPH: No remedial action required, but NJDEP reporting and depth to groundwater to be determined. Groundwater sampling if contamination is with 2' of groundwater.
3. 1000 to 5100 ppm EPH, contingent Naphthalene (6-ppm maximum allowable) & 2-Methylnapthalene (5-ppm maximum allowable) required to be performed. If samples exceed for either compound, Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure (SPLP) analysis required, results to be below 390 ug/L. If levels meet these standards, depth to groundwater to be determined. Groundwater sampling if contamination is with 2' of groundwater. NJDEP reporting and depth to groundwater determination with potential sampling.
4. >5100 ppm EPH: Soil remediation is required with NJDEP reporting and associated $400.00 NJDEP review fee.
Key bit of information, UNLESS you have laboratory testing performed you dont know if your tank leak requires remediation, click the link to learn more Did my oil tank leak?
If the seller cannot provide any written reports about soil testing, should testing be performed?
A9. Many homeowners have discovered soil contamination exists around their buried abandoned oil tanks that their town or municipality considered properly decommissioned. These homeowners originally purchased property based strictly on the municipality or town building inspector's approval and ignored the fact that soil testing was not performed at the time the underground heating oil tank was filled with sand, gravel or foam. Now, the homeowners are selling their homes and they are providing the buyer with all the municipality's documents about the buried oil tank on the property. Since the homeowner provided no documents about the condition of the soil in the tank excavation, the buyer tests the soil and discovers levels of contamination (heating oil) in the area around the underground tank. Even though the homeowner has all the supporting documentation from the municipality, the responsibility for cleaning up the contamination rests solely with the unsuspecting new homeowner. The regulations read that whoever owns the property owns the problem.
If there is no written report certifying the soil's condition, make sure you test the soil around any abandoned or "properly closed" heating oil tank before you take possession of the property.
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Why test the soil around the tank?
A10. If a spill has ever occurred while filling the tank, or if the tank or piping has or is leaking,residual oil will be present in the soil around the tank. Analytical data from an independent laboratory provides third party data concerning the presence or absence of petroleum around the buried storage tank.
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What is the State's role?
A11. Under state laws, cleanup activities must be conducted for discharges of heating oil when levels are over NJDEP standards or groundwater has been impacted. Contaminated soil and water cleanups may take place with or without state oversight. However, to obtain final state approval of a cleanup, a “No Further Action” letter is needed through the NJDEP’s Voluntary Cleanup Program or UHOT program. This letter is required by mortgage and insurance companies for most real estate transactions. If a NFA letter is needed at closing, please ensure that you leave ample time to complete the cleanup and gain final state approval..
The DEP receives no state funding to cover the costs for oversight; therefore costs must be paid by those who require the service. The NJDEP, in turn, reviews cleanup activities and provides final approval at the conclusion. A property owner may choose to perform a cleanup without participating in the Voluntary Cleanup Program, but the matter will remain an open case until the Department can review the cleanup. Reviews of cleanups conducted outside this program are conducted on a priority basis, with those sites posing the greatest environmental risks addressed first. A “no further action” letter, however, is available only through the Voluntary Cleanup Program.
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What are the steps for cleanup for a heating oil tank leak?
A12.The following are some of the steps a contractor will take to clean up fuel oil contamination. All individual cleanups will differ depending on the size of the plume and if groundwater was encountered. The following steps will help you better understand the general cleanup process.
If there is an underground storage tank that must be removed, it will be removed according to local codes and the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practices. Your municipality will require a construction permit in order to remove the tank. The tank will be thoroughly cleaned and properly disposed of at recycling/scrap metal facility. Once the tank has been removed, the contractor will take soil samples to determine if a release has occurred. A NJDEP certified laboratory will analyze the samples, and the results will be compared to the NJDEP’s soil cleanup criteria to determine if remediation is required. A quick overview of NJDEP standards:
1.<1000 ppm for Extractable Petroleum Hydrocarbons (EPH): No remedial action required, but NJDEP reporting is necessary and a $400.00 NJDEP review fee would be incurred.
2. 1000 to 5100 ppm EPH, contingent Naphthalene (6-ppm maximum allowable) & 2-Methylnapthalene (5-ppm maximum allowable) required to be performed on the highest EPH containing soil sample result. If samples exceed for either compound, Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure (SPLP) analysis required, results to be below 390 ug/L. If levels meet these standards, then no remediation is required, but NJDEP reporting is necessary and a $400.00 NJDEP review fee would be incurred. Depth to groundwater is required to be determined and a groundwater sample required if groundwater is within 2' of the EPH containing soil.
3. >5100 ppm EPH: Soil remediation is required.
* Samples must be stored at 4 to 2 degrees Celsius until analyzed. Samples must be extracted within 14 days and extracts must be analyzed within 40 days of extraction.
Once the soil samples are obtained the contractor will be able to determine the size of the plume and give a cost estimate for the clean-up. The contractor will then apply for permits and the remediation process will begin. The contractor will have the soil pre-approved into a licensed recycling facility so that they can be recycled properly. After all of the impacted soils are removed the contractor will take post-excavation soil samples and then backfill the area with certified clean fill.
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You should file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company as soon as evidence of a leak is discovered. Most policies require at least prompt notice of a claim, and they may require your assistance in providing information to the insurer. The language of each individual policy determines if there is insurance coverage for cleanup of contamination from leaking residential underground storage tanks.
Grant and loan programs are available from the State of New Jersey to provide financial assistance for cleanup costs. To find out if you are eligible, go to www.nj.gov/dep/srp/finance/ustfund/, or contact the Division of Remediation Support, Bureau of Contract and Fund Management, at (609) 777-0101.
Effective Aug. 2, 2006, the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Remediation, Upgrade and Closure Program provides loans and grants to eligible applicants to help finance project costs for the closure and replacement of a non-leaking residential underground storage tank. This funding assistance is available through the EDA. If you have additional questions, contact EDA Customer Support at (609) 777-4898 or go to the Economic Development Authority’s Web site
The property owner said he never used that tank and it was there when he bought it, so he or she is not paying for any testing or removal?
A13.Just because the current owner made a bad decision doesn't’t mean you should. Depending on the state where the property is located, there maybe a construction code requiring a tank that is out of service for longer than a year to be removed or properly abandoned, this could help budge the owner to do the right thing and address the tank issue.
When an oil tank is removed what is a tank certification?
A14. It is typically recommended that all tanks be removed from the ground when taking a tank out of service. When a tank is removed and a site assessment soil sampling is performed by a qualified individual, a professional determination can be put forward as to the integrity of the tank. Some people refer to the determination as a Tank CERTIFICATION. There is no standard certification that is mandated by the EPA or the NJDEP for residential heating oil tanks and given by an independent company. What a property owner can receive is a professional determination from the company performing the tank removal activities describing what transpired during the tank removal. This determination can and should contain a statement regarding the visual integrity of the tank and if the tank did or did not leak. The site assessment to evaluate whether contamination is present in the excavation can be carried out in a variety of ways while the tank is being removed and can consist of the following:
•Evidence of contamination can be determined from product odors, product stained soils, and/or visual evidence of free product.
•Inspection of the Underground Storage Tank, (UST), for evidence of corrosion or perforations once the tank is removed from the ground.
•Obtaining soil samples from along the bottom invert of the tank excavation. This is the most accurate.
In New Jersey the standard analytical testing method for number two heating oil is Extractable Petroleum Hydrocarbons (EPH). Clarification as to concentrations of Extractable Petroleum Hydrocarbons or EPH, can be ascertained by collection of a soil sample from the tank excavation and submitting the soil sample or samples to an independent licensed laboratory for analysis. Standard turnaround or completion of sample analysis is ten business days from the date the laboratory receives the soil sample. Quicker analysis time frames can be obtained but will be more expensive than the standard ten day around. Bear in mind that turn around times for completing soil laboratory analysis is based on when the laboratory receives/logs in the actual sample or samples. The laboratory may not pickup and log in the soil sample for twenty-four hours after the sample is collected from the property.
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What does it cost to remove an oil tank?
Oil Tank Removal Costs
The cost to remove an oil tank is directly related to the tank size and location. Generally, smaller tanks (290 gallon) are less expensive to remove than larger tanks (1,000 gallon). Location is also a factor; a tank under a lawn is less costly to remove than one that may be underneath a deck or patio, which would require removal and replacement of the patio or deck.
There are certain ingredients (costs) that make up a tank removal price, and they are as follows: 1. Labor, equipment, fill, and reporting 2. Permit fee 3. Liquid disposal charge 4. Laboratory analysis. Permit fees and liquid disposal are variable costs, as the exact quantity of either is typically unknown until the project is undertaken. So, you should expect to see a unit charge for these items in an estimate. Laboratory analysis is not required by law, but is a prudent task to have completed, as it will provide independent laboratory analysis that your tank did not leak. This is valuable information to have when you wish to sell your home and the buyer asks for your certification that the tank did not leak.
The base cost for a tank removal should include the time to apply for and obtain permits, the excavation equipment necessary to dig up the tank and remove it from the ground, the fill necessary to back fill the void space in the ground once the tank is removed, labor to do the referenced work, and finally but most importantly the time it takes a project manager to write a report that clearly documents the tank removal. This last ingredient is extremely important, but very few firms provide this service. The report at its core describes all the steps completed to remove the tank, the reasons that the tank is being declared a non-leaker and all pertinent documents such as local permit, tank scrap receipt, clean fill certification, etc. Many budget companies do not provide an extensive report and instead rely on a paid invoice referencing that an oil tank was removed. Some people mistake this for a certification. Repeatedly our firm gets involved in evaluating a property where a tank was removed and the owner never received proper documentation for the tank removal. What is considered proper is a detailed explanation of the tank removal activities, project documentation and a professional statement regarding if the tank did or did not leak. This last statement is the most important as people get confused that a tank removal project receives an APPROVAL from the construction office. This is basically the construction office agreeing that a firm did what they said they would do, which is remove an oil tank. While legally removing a tank as per construction code is an important part of a tank removal, the most important question that needs answering is if the tank leaked. Leaking tanks cost more money to fix than a simple tank removal. So the money question is: Did the Tank Leak? Any report documenting a tank removal should answer this question.
What is involved with removing an underground heating oil tank?
A15.There are a variety of required procedures that need to be followed when a heating oil Underground Storage Tank (UST) is permanently taken out of service. The most important are the confined space requirements for personnel who clean tanks. Any individual who enters a confined space, (an example of a confined space is an oil tank), must complete a 40-hour training course with a yearly 8-hour refresher class to certify the individual for confined space entry. At a minimum, both American Petroleum Institute, API, standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, regulations should be observed during tank closures. (For the same reasons that you hire a trained and licensed plumber or electrician, you should also hire an environmental company fully capable of servicing your tank needs).
Standard procedures for closing a UST system entail following American Petroleum Institute, (API), "Recommended Practice 1604, Removal and Disposal of Used Underground Petroleum Storage Tanks,” and American Petroleum Institute Publication 2015, "Cleaning Petroleum Storage Tanks.” Occupational Health and Safety Administration, (OSHA), 2226 - Excavations, OSHA, 29 CFR Part 1926 Occupational Safety and Health Standards Excavations, OSHA, 29 CFR Part 1910, Occupational Safety and Health Standards and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) "Criteria for a Recommended Standard - Working in Confined Space.” By ensuring that tank removal activities follow the guidelines set forth by Federal, state and local ordinances and industry organizations such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a property owner is assured that the potential risks relating to performing tank closure activities are addressed.
Local construction/fire permits are typically required to be applied for before the tank can be removed. Once the local permits are approved, it is typical that the local inspector will need to be on site for all or a part of the removal activities.
State law requires that before any excavation activities can commence, a utility mark out will need to be performed. The company performing the tank removal should call for an underground mark out Not all underground utilities are covered by this service. Also, utility mark outs do not include portions of service lines which are the property owner's responsibility to maintain. It is the responsibility of the property owner to identify all underground utilities which may not be covered by the mark out service.
It is the law in New Jersey and other states, to call for a utility mark out before you dig. Make sure the company you choose to remove the tank obtains a mark out confirmation number. It protects all parties involved.
To access a buried oil tank it is necessary to uncover the top of the tank to permit entry into the tank for the purpose of cleaning the tank. The majority of Underground Storage Tanks are typically located adjacent to an existing structure or dwelling. Accordingly excavation of an underground storage tank should be made with due care to avoid undermining the dwelling foundation.
After the tank has been excavated to expose the top, and all pumpable liquids removed, the tank should be purged of petroleum vapors. Purging of the tank consists of drawing air through the tank to remove/purge the tank of any hazardous vapors. Without purging the tank, a hazardous environment inside the tank may exist due to lack of oxygen in the tank. After the tank has been properly purged, an inspection of the oxygen level in the tank should be performed. If no hazardous vapors are present and the tank contains sufficient oxygen, the tank should then be entered and cleaned. Cleaning of the tank will consist of wiping, squeegeeing and removing all liquids and sludges from the tank. Liquids are then either placed into on site storage containers or a vacuum truck. The liquids are then typically transported off the site for recycling. The tank should only be removed from the ground after it has been properly cleaned.
After the tank is removed, soil samples can be obtained and tank excavation will need to be inspected by the local official. Once this is done the tank excavation can be backfilled with clean certified fill.
More information can be found at this link: /oil-tank-removal--abandonment
Can you explain what the process would be if the tank was leaking? We have used the tank for years and don't believe it is, because we have never had a problem with the tank.
Answer: An oil tank leak is a problem and like all problem you must first determine the severity of the problem,. i.e., how big or small the leak was will determine the extent of remediation required. A delineation (diagnosis) is typically performed after an oil tank leak is found. When an underground heating oil tank is removed and found to be leaking, the next question that needs to be answered is how large or small of an area will require remediation. To determine the extent further investigation of the tank discharge is necessary. This is completed by advancing soil borings both within the tank excavation (to determine vertical extent) and around the perimeter of the former tank location to determine the horizontal extent. This develops a form of 3D model of the extent of contamination, and then a plan can be developed to remediate the contamination. Just as a doctor will do biopsy around a tumor, you do soil borings around an oil tank leak to determine how far the oi has spread.
What are the costs to remediate a tank leak?
If you have a delineation that defines the extent of the contamination then you can determine a cost. If you have no soil testing results, then any cost would be purely a guess. We have been remediating tank leaks for over 20 years and there is no magic bullet or years of experience where someone can JUST TELL it is going to cost this much.
Generally a small tank leak, some soil, testing, reporting ect can run up to the $5,000.00 range. Costs can incrementally increase by thousands of dollars based on the increase in soil removal (contaminated soil) and replacement (clean fill). Could you spend $7000.00, $10,000.00 or more, yes, if the tank leak is big enough to require that expense. Bottom line you can't determine a cost unless you define how big a problem is present. Trust us the majority of oil tanks do not leak, but they do not make for good stories. The stories you hear about are the tank leaks that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
I removed my oil tank and was told the tank leaked and requires remediation. How do I know if the tank leaked? The tank company wants to remediate and I don't believe the oil tank leaked?
This all to common question has an entire page dedicated to how do you know if your oil tank REALLY needs remediation. Can I trust my tank removal company and/or Did my oil tank really Leak?
I am selling and/or I am buying a property that that is being sold "AS IS with an oil tank"?
Any property being sold as is really means "all the problems with the property are being pawned off of to the buyer". As is properties can get home inspections rather inexpensively to assess what needs to be addressed within the bones of the house. Determining issues with an oil tank is a more costly endeavor that many home buyers do not wish to undertake. The reason being is it could cost a few thousand dollars to diagnosis a problem and home buyers don't want to spend the money to fix someone elses proble. To be blunt, what we hear most often is "I am not cleaning up their mess and what other issues are they hiding"?.
The as is sale is even more dangerous the lower the value of the home. A $20,000.00 remediation is more easily swallowed on a $400,000.00 property, less so so on a $100,000.00 property.
If these answers are not sufficient or you require additional information, please feel free to contact Curren Environmental at 888-301-1050.