BALTIMORE, MD (December 7, 2006) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently awarded Harford County native Michael Frank Employee of the Year honors for his innovative application of a process designed to detect releases of petroleum vapors being emitted from underground storage tank systems (USTs).
“The employee of the year is recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to serve Maryland and ensure that our environment and the safety of our citizens is protected,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “Mr. Frank leads by example in putting in the extra time, talent and energy it takes to be one step ahead of environmental threats – his smart decision-making and educated experience is of great value to this state.”
Frank was tasked with detecting underground vapors emitted by failing UST that allow the release of petroleum constituents. One such constituent that has been a major concern of MDE is Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE.) Based on his extensive experience with UST systems and former precision tightness testing background, Frank initiated and standardized a first-ever nationwide helium testing protocol to detect fugitive vapors that threaten the waters of the state.
MTBE, ironically an additive to gasoline also used to reduce emissions to the air, was detected in private wells throughout Harford County. MTBE becomes a health hazard if it escapes from a UST and leaks by vapors into the water supply. MTBE is very water-soluble
Frank, an inspector from the Waste Management Administration’s Oil Control Program set out to detect a leak where a liquid plume release is not present and the groundwater is affected. The UST’s emitting vapors caused MTBEs to migrate into the water supply at levels high enough to deem the water contaminated.
By injecting helium into the UST system and using a specialized detector to check for leaks, Frank observed active petroleum vapor releases, as any fume can enter the groundwater. “Using the inert gas helium to identify leaks is a common practice in the industry as well as other industries,” said Frank. “Any component on top of the tank that is not properly installed or vapor tight allows helium to escape and be detected. The leaking components are then corrected or replaced and assure that the UST system is not only liquid tight, but also vapor tight.”
Frank then took the process one step further by writing a helium testing protocol so the state could standardize the procedures in an affordable way. This easily saved the regulated community tens of thousands of dollars in cost prohibitive testing resources.
The Helium Testing Protocol was placed in the Code of Maryland Regulations as an Emergency Provision on January 26, 2005 and finally became code on January 16, 2006.
“I love this job,” admitted Frank, who has been working for MDE since 1994. “My career with the state has always been unique and challenging. Although you feel it is not always appreciated – it’s the little things that count…the work itself feels rewarding, said Frank” I enjoy physically doing the work, and I put in extra time because I love this job and the technology excites me. There's always a new frontier and you don’t know how far is it going to go.”
Michael Frank holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Resource Management, specializing in water pollution control. He lives in Bel Air with his wife and two children.