A residential fuel oil spill

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 11/25/20

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — “There’s been another home fuel oil spill in Cochecton,” said code enforcement officer Greg Semenetz at the November 11 meeting of the Cochecton Town …

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A residential fuel oil spill

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LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — “There’s been another home fuel oil spill in Cochecton,” said code enforcement officer Greg Semenetz at the November 11 meeting of the Cochecton Town Board. “This is the second for our town in four months.”

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is onsite and cleaning it up,” said supervisor Gary Maas who, along with Semenetz, had gone to observe the cleanup process. “They’re pumping and excavating, and there are piles of oil-contaminated soil in the yard.”

In a November 16 phone conversation, Semenetz said, “Home fuel oil spills are pretty rare. But when they happen, the cost of cleanup can be devastating for the homeowner.”

Speaking of the most recent spill in Cochecton, DEC spokesperson Maureen Wren estimates the cleanup cost for that property at approximately $100,000, adding, “If a spill impacts adjacent properties, the spiller would be responsible for the cost.”

Wren elaborated on the cause and result of the spill. “DEC is rigorously overseeing the cleanup of a spill due to the failure of a supply line connecting two above-ground home heating oil tanks that caused the release of oil into the basement of the home. The oil entered both the basement sump pit and the dirt floor. DEC has retained an environmental contractor to conduct the cleanup and ensure protection of public health and the environment. Contaminated soil and heating oil in the ground are being cleaned up in the basement and outside in the yard. At this time, based on geological observations, DEC sees no indication the contamination has impacted adjacent properties.”

Unfortunately, home fuel oil spills are rarely covered by standard homeowner insurance policies. Regina Murphy, personal lines manager at Mike Preis Inc in Callicoon, says most of today’s homeowner policies contain specific exclusions regarding spills from both above-ground and below-ground fuel oil storage tanks. “We don’t insure against the damage caused by fuel oil spills. And I’m not sure if any other insurer does either,” said Murphy.

“Maybe Lloyds of London,” suggested Craig Burkle, owner of George Burkle Insurance in Callicoon. “But we do not.”

When a spill occurs, New York State homeowners should contact the DEC immediately. Says Wren, “DEC maintains a 24-hour spill hotline at 1-800/457-7362. The calls are answered by a DEC dispatcher that guides the homeowner reporting a spill.” Wren also provided the best reason to report a spill as soon as it is discovered. “Most homeowner spills are short-term releases that, if caught early, do not require long-term remediation. However, some spills that enter bedrock can take several years to address.”

Probably the most concerning aspect of a spill in an area lacking a public water supply is potential contamination of homeowner wells and springs. But regarding that, Wren had some encouraging news. “Petroleum-contaminated drinking water alone would not cause a residence to be uninhabitable. An impacted drinking water supply can be treated with a granular activated carbon filter system so the water supply would meet New York State Department of Health drinking water standards. Once the release has stopped, a drinking water supply will generally clean up over time. Additional remediation may also be required, but this is case dependent.“

Asked about the impact of the most recent Cochecton spill on that homeowner’s water supply, Wren said, “The site of this spill is currently vacant. As part of DEC’s ongoing cleanup, and prior to occupancy, the on-site drinking water will be sampled to ensure protection of public health and the environment.”

Who ultimately bears cleanup costs? Wren replied, “After DEC expends state comptroller’s office spill fund monies, the state attorney general attempts to recoup the expenditures with potentially responsible parties.”

Asked what homeowners can do to prevent oil spills, Wren said, “Homeowners should regularly inspect their home heating oil tanks for signs of rust or leaks. Many home heating oil companies perform this service as well.” For more information, visit www.dec.ny.gov/press/114846.html

Semenetz advises homeowners to include tank and line inspections as part of their annual oil burner cleaning and servicing. He also recommends annual pressure testing of underground storage tanks, which measures the tank’s structural integrity. And he urges homeowners to keep their oil supplier informed of any changes made to the home’s heating system. Citing the case of a homeowner who failed to tell his supplier that his above-ground tanks had been disconnected from the incoming line during a home renovation, Semenetz said, “A small oversight can result in a costly cleanup.”

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