Gulf Oil, Inc. has agreed to pay $40,000 in fines to the federal government for violations of the Clean Air Act relating to fuel storage tanks owned by the company in New Haven.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, Gulf Oil’s problems in New Haven began in 1994, when the company bought a bulk storage terminal on New Haven harbor. The EPA said Gulf operated the terminal for several years without necessary state and federal permits and also made modifications to one of the tanks without proper permits. The EPA also said Gulf failed to test for emissions and did not maintain emission control equipment.

The violations first became apparent in 1997 when Gulf conducted an EPA-mandated emissions test of its equipment.

Tom Olivier, the EPA attorney who handled the settlement, said the EPA’s primary concern is human health.

“We want to emphasize that anything less than a full effort to comply with the regulations isn’t acceptable,” Olivier said.

Representatives of Gulf Oil could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Throughout the 1990s, the New Haven Gulf terminal released large amounts of volatile organic compounds, or “VOCs.” These substances are components of ozone and can contribute to respiratory problems.

Between 1994 and 1997, Gulf Oil released an estimated 63 tons of excess VOCs from fuel loading racks at its New Haven terminal. In 1997, EPA emissions tests showed that 237 milligrams of VOCs were present in each liter of air around the tanks. At the time, the federal limit for VOCs was 35 mg/L.

VOCs are hazardous to both humans and the environment because they break down into ozone on hot days. Ozone in the atmosphere protects humans from ultraviolet rays, but ozone on the ground irritates lung airways.

Victor Yanosy, an air pollution engineer at the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the compounds have been shown to irritate mucous membranes in the lungs and especially affects those with preexisting conditions like asthma.

“But people outside under strenuous conditions will notice a decline in their performance on days with poor air quality,” Yanosy said.

Due in part to emissions from tanks like those in New Haven, the yearly number of days like this is on the rise.

“The number of days with poor air quality in Connecticut has gone up in the past decade to a total of 24 this year,” said Robert W. Varney, the regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office. “This clearly illustrates the need to cut down on the smog-causing VOCs being put into the air.”

In addition to the $40,000 paid to the U.S. Treasury, Gulf Oil will spend approximately $421,000 on voluntary supplemental environmental projects. These plans include upgrading the fuel storage tanks to exceed requirements and strengthening their seals, as well as painting them white to reduce heat retention

The same improvements will be made to Gulf tanks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maine.

EPA officials hope these improvements will bring a reduction of VOCs around New Haven and the other Gulf bulk fuel storage terminals.

“Over time, emissions reductions add up,” Olivier said.

The expected VOC reductions in New Haven will amount to an estimated 25 tons per year for at least the next 15 years.