Oil Cleanup Information For Homeowners And Insurance Companies
Many residents whose homes were flooded during Tropical Depression Ida also had their heating oil tanks flooded or damaged releasing oil that contaminated their home or outside property. As the response to Ida unfolds, DEC is acting to prevent additional spills by removing oil from basements and damaged tanks. DEC's actions are also focused on responding to any remaining actual spills where there is recoverable petroleum or to situations that present a significant threat of a release (e.g., a petroleum tank which is damaged and in imminent danger of releasing oil). If you need to have storm water removed from an otherwise intact heating oil tank, you must contact your home heating oil company and/or insurance company and arrange for water removal. Do not discharge the contaminated water to the ground. Where homeowners have insurance that covers an oil spill, they are submitting claims asking their insurance company to fund or to directly undertake the cleanup of the oil contamination. Others do not have insurance that covers oil spills and are wondering what they should do.
To prevent any delays in cleanups, DEC offers the following guidance:
- If you find recoverable oil in or near your home that has not already been reported, you should contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Hotline at 1-800-457-7362 to report the spill (note that the hotline is only for reporting spills and does not provide guidance or general information).
- Insurance companies should act quickly to address oil contamination covered by their policies. Due to the number of spills created by Ida, insurers should take actions needed to restore homes to a habitable condition without waiting for written instruction from DEC.
- Homeowners who do not have insurance that covers oil spills may seek assistance from FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA and requesting Individual Assistance (IA). The IA inspector will assess the situation as part of their overall evaluation of flood damage.
- All discharged petroleum should be recovered to the greatest extent practicable. To prevent the further spread of oil contamination and as part of New York's State's efforts to aid in the recovery from the flooding, DEC has responded to numerous spill reports and is working to collect recoverable oil from basements and from flooded tanks. DEC will continue to collect recoverable oil (i.e., oil that can be pumped rather than oil-soaked debris or from intact tanks) in the coming days and weeks.
- Oil spilled outside of structures onto yards and other areas may be washed away after the storm or may evaporate. Although there may be some staining on grass and other surfaces from residual petroleum, these small amounts do not pose a significant environmental or public health threat and will naturally degrade over time. However, if there is localized puddling of oil or areas with a thicker film of oil, avoid dermal (skin) contact, don't let children play in areas that are visually contaminated with oil, avoid tracking oil inside the home on shoes or on the feet of house pets, and use cat litter or other absorbent materials available at home improvement stores to absorb the oil (where practical).
- When petroleum is spilled inside a structure, residual amounts that remain after recoverable oil has been collected may create indoor air/odor problems that make the structure uninhabitable. To address this problem, the structure and contaminated items should be properly disposed or cleaned, if practicable. Information on how to address oil contamination within a home and about health effects can be found in the New York State Department of Health's publication "What Do Homeowners Need to Know About Oil Spills and Flooding?" (PDF) (156 KB).
- Under New York law, the person who owns the tank from which oil was released is considered to be the "discharger." A discharger of petroleum is strictly liable for any resulting damage even if it was caused by an event, like a natural disaster, for which they had no control (see Navigation Law § 181.1).
- If a discharger fails to cleanup significant impacts to the environment, DEC may complete the cleanup and then bring an action against the discharger to recover these costs (see Navigation Law § 187).