In business, sometimes budgets can be tight and it’s not uncommon to find yourself tasked with a company-wide directive to take cost-saving measures wherever you can. So you might be tempted to add another month or two in between storage tank cleanings. You haven’t seen any negative effects, so maybe you hold out another month until you have your tanks serviced again. Delaying tank cleanings may seem like an easy way to cut costs, but unfortunately, if it catches up with you, the results can be even more expensive.

We interviewed our own ERC Vice President of Operations, Peter Haiges, to detail the importance of regular tank maintenance, what happens when you neglect tank cleanings and what the process looks like.

How often should storage tank cleanings be done?

Facilities that are state registered are required to have an internal tank inspection every 10 years, but tank cleanings should be a priority on a much more consistent basis. There is no universal cleaning schedule because a lot of it is product dependent and every industry and company is different.

At ERC, our maintenance schedule includes cleaning our wastewater treatment tanks every three months. This removes the solid waste settlement that builds up in the bottom of the tanks. This ensures that contamination is at a minimum and our tanks can hold their maximum capacity.

Why is regular tank cleaning and maintenance important?

Removal of waste build-up is one of the main reasons you need to regularly clean your tanks. Solids can settle on the bottom of a tank, adhesives can stick to all sides of a tank and crystallization can occur inside a tank. Over time, you’ll see that your product is not coming out clean or you’ll notice restrictions in piping and holding capacity.

Additionally, chemical companies need to do a cleaning each time they do a product change-over in their tank. Skipping a tank cleaning can lead to cross-contamination or the risk of a reaction when remnants of the previous liquid and current liquid mix.

You also see condensation build up in tanks and even these small of amounts of water inside a tank can cause a product to be out of spec.

What are the dangers of neglecting proper tank maintenance?

In many cases, storage tank cleanings are neglected as a cost-savings measure, but as with most short-cuts, you can end up paying more in costly repairs or equipment replacement when something inevitably goes wrong. Most often we see that companies need to scrap their product because of cross-contamination or products being manufactured out of spec. This loss of revenue, coupled with expensive repairs, can really effect a company’s bottom line.

I recall an instance with a client who didn’t keep up on a regular maintenance program. Their total tank capacity was 6,000 gallons, but due to tank neglect and waste build-up, their tanks could only hold 3,400 gallons. At that point, the tank’s walls were so thick with waste that it couldn’t be cleaned out and sections of the tanks had to be removed and replaced.

What is the process your team undergoes when cleaning tanks?

The company prepares by removing product from the tanks before our team gets on site. We’ll use a vacuum to remove any leftover product or condensation, making the tank as dry as possible. Before entering the tank, the Field Service Supervisor will test and monitor the air quality and lockout/tag out the surrounding equipment.  Every safety and environmental consideration is taken into account before entry. From there, it’s a process of using scrappers and squeegees to remove any waste that has adhered to the sides of the tank. We end every cleaning with a heated, pressurized wash.

Some situations are handled a little differently, for example when cleaning hazardous materials from a storage tank. We use a specialized set of no-spark tools due to the ignitability of some hazardous materials and the team wears equipment that provides full supplied air.

The most important aspect of storage tank cleanings is ensuring that you use properly trained personnel and resist the temptation of using internal staff to do the job. ERC’s personnel undergo 40 hours of OSHA and HAZWOPER training before working on any tank cleaning projects.

Are you still skipping regular storage tank cleanings as a cost-savings measure? You may want to rethink your strategy.

Contact your local ERC team and get your facility on a regular cleaning and maintenance program.