If you are
no longer using heating oil to heat your home:
Many Washington State residents have switched from
oil to natural gas or electricity as a means of heating their homes. Sometimes when this
happens the home owner does not know how to properly deal with the "unused"
heating oil tank. Neglecting to take care of an unused tank can cause serious problems for
the home owner. For instance:
- Tanks can develop holes and release heating oil into the soil. The released
contaminate groundwater, surface water, storm sewers, and cause
vapor problems in nearby
buildings. Under the state Model Toxics Control Act,
the tank owner may be held liable for
damage caused by a leaking tank.
Neither the federal government nor Washington State regulates the use or
operation of residential heating oil tanks. However, some local governments have
requirements or guidelines for closing and removing these tanks. Before you remove your
tank, talk to your local Fire Marshal and city or county building department. Ask
American Distributing Co. about permits, inspections, or other requirements that
may apply to residential heating oil tank closure or removal. Regulations and policies
vary from place to place and may change from time to time.
- Corrosion can cause underground tanks to deteriorate, making cave-ins
a possibility. The
home owner could be held liable for injuries caused by a cave-in.
- Before finalizing the sale of a house, lending institutions and home buyers may
sellers to remove or "close" unused heating oil tanks. To "close" a
oil tank, the home owner has the tank cleaned out and filled. The tank is then
left buried in the ground.
The rest of this report contains some commonly asked questions about residential
heating oil tanks and the Department of Ecology's answers to those questions.
What should I do if I have
an unused heating oil tank on my property?
Find out what's in the tank.
Most underground residential tanks are easy to find. If you have trouble locating your
tank, try following the fuel lines from the house, locating the tank vent pipes, or use a
hand probe or metal detector.
To find out if there's still oil in the tank:
Remove the filler cap.
Insert a long stick into the tank until it touches bottom.
Remove stick - If there is oil in the tank you will be able to see it on the stick.
Sometimes a tank will contain oil and water, or primarily water (the water will settle
to the bottom, the oil will float on top). You can check for water by putting a small
amount of water- reactive paste on the end of the stick and inserting the stick into the
tank. If there is water in the tank, the paste will turn color. The paste can be purchased
from American Distributing Co.
Have all unused heating oil removed from your tank.
The Department of Ecology strongly recommends that you have all unused heating oil removed
from your tank. Removing the unused oil is the easiest, least costly, and single-most
important action you can take to prevent contamination of soil and groundwater.
After the heating oil has been pumped out of your tank, you should think about having your
tank removed or "closed in place."
NOTE: If you have an unused heating oil tank, do not re-fill it unless it has been
checked by American Distributing Co., and never put household waste like paint,
antifreeze, or used motor oil into an unused residential heating oil tank.
Have your tank removed
The Department of Ecology recommends that you have
the tank removed because:
- If the tank has leaked, it will be easier to find and clean up any contaminated soil.
- Often, home buyers and lending institutions require assurance that the property
contaminated before agreeing to complete property transactions. The best
way to provide
that assurance is to remove the tank and sample the soil in the pit.
Tank removal allows visual inspection of the area under the tank and more accurate soil
sampling. Remember to keep reports of tank removal and soil samples for your records.
Below are some of the activities American Distributing Co. will probably do when removing
- Pump all remaining oil from your tank.
- Clean out any sludge in the bottom of the tank.
- Excavate down to top of tank.
- Remove or cap all lines.
- Remove potentially explosive vapors from the tank.
- Remove the tank from the ground.
- Properly dispose of the tank.
This is a popular option for residential tanks -
especially if removal isn't possible. But before choosing this alternative, consider the
future of your property.
Potential buyers or lenders may require you to remove the tank, and a filled tank is
harder to remove (unless it has been filled with foam).
Below are some activities American Distributing Co. will probably do when
closing your tank in place.
- Pump all remaining oil from your tank.
- Clean out any sludge in the bottom of the tank.
- Remove or cap all lines.
- Fill the tank with inert solid material, such as a weak cement
slurry and sand.
- Plug or cap all openings in the tank.
- Backfill the hole.
How can I find a company or
contractor to do my tank work?
Many companies provide services for residential
heating oil tanks. Some companies provide pumping, cleaning, filling, removal and disposal
services and some specialize in one or two services.
American Distributing Co. is a company that will pump and clean your tank
or fill or remove your tank. The Department of Ecology recommends that you hire an
experienced person to do the work. Our employees have "Hazardous
Material" certificates and issue "Tank Decommissioning" certificates.
How much does it cost to
have tank work done?
The cost of tank services will vary depending on the
size, location, and accessibility of your tank. Costs can also vary among companies
performing the same services. Ask American Distributing Co. for an itemized estimate.
Estimates are usually free. Ask what the charges will be and how they will be determined.
Below is some additional information about tank services:
- Pumping and Cleaning: Sometimes charitable organizations sponsor
programs to donate oil to low-income residents. American Distributing Co.
will pump your oil for a minimal fee. To find out if there is such a program in
call 1-800-RECYCLE or check with American Distributing Co.
at 1-800-579-6777, 360-658-3751 or
- Filling: The cost of filling the tank depends on the type and amount of
material your contractor uses.
- Removal/Disposal: You may be able to save money by having one company
perform several services at one time. Or you may be able to negotiate a price
several residences in the same neighborhood have services performed
at the same time.
Companies that clean tanks and/or recycle waste oil always have to consider the
possibility that there may be hazardous substances in the waste oil or sludge. They must
include testing and handling costs when filling or removing a tank, and that in turn
affects your cost.
May I do the work myself?
While there is no law prohibiting you from doing the
work, the Department of Ecology doesn't recommend doing tank removal yourself because of
the potential safety risks. You should hire an experienced contractor to do the work.
Working on an underground heating oil tank can be
dangerous. Under certain conditions these tanks can explode. Working in the excavation
pit, cutting open or handling heavy tanks, and using power equipment also pose risks to
the home owner. Never enter an underground storage tank, even if it has been cut open. The
Department of Ecology recommends that you hire an experienced contractor to perform the
If you are currently using
heating oil to heat your home:
Many Washington State residents are still using
heating oil to heat their homes. Unfortunately, most residential heating oil tanks are
30-50 years old, and nearing (or past) the time when they will begin leaking. Here are
some tips on how to determine if your tank is leaking:
- If your furnace seems to be using more fuel than usual, your heating oil tank
developed a leak. (Consider other possible factors for variable fuel
usage, such as
unusually cold weather or furnace malfunction.)
- Is there water in your tank? Stick the tank, using water-reactive paste on the
find out. A small amount of water is normal, but several inches may
mean water is getting
in through a hole in the tank - which means oil could
be getting out.
- During the summer, when you aren't using the furnace, carefully measure and
level of fuel in the tank. Make sure the furnace is completely off.
You may even want to
disable it to be sure it isn't coming on at night. Wait
as long as possible, keeping the
furnace off (preferably at least two weeks,
but the longer you wait, the smaller the leak
you will be able to detect), then
measure the fuel again. If the level is down, the tank
is probably leaking. If
the level is up, you should check to see if water is entering the
- Check with American Distributing Co. about there services or programs
offered to residential oil heat customers. American Distributing Co. has programs
provide warranty against leaks, insurance to cover cleanup costs, and/or
What should I do if my tank
Knowingly using a leaking tank is negligence. If you
discover that your tank is leaking you must take immediate action to stop the leak. The
best first action is to have all heating oil pumped from the tank.
Leaks from heating oil tanks are usually discovered when underground tanks are removed,
when vapors or heating oil seep into basements, or when heating oil levels drop faster
than they should based on the amount of oil being burned.
In most cases where a tank has leaked, only the soil near the tank is affected. Sometimes,
however, the heating oil may also have contaminated groundwater or surface water.
It is the owner's responsibility to:
- evaluate the extent of contamination caused by the leak.
- determine if it is a threat to human health and the environment.
- clean up any contamination caused by the leak.
Should I report the leak to
Minor leaks or spills from residential heating oil tanks do not have to
be reported to the Department of Ecology. Minor leaks are those that affect only the soil
near the tank.
More Extensive Leaks
If heating oil has gotten into surface waters, such as creeks, lakes, rivers, or storm
sewers, you must report it immediately to the Emergency Management Division at
1-800-258-5990. If your heating oil has caused any of the following situations, you should
report the leak to the appropriate Ecology regional office within 90 days.
- The heating oil has reached adjoining properties.
- The heating oil has affected a well or groundwater.
- The heating oil has caused vapor problems in nearby buildings.
- The heating oil has pooled on the surface of the ground.
- The heating oil has caused extensive soil contamination.
NOTE: The Department of Ecology reserves the right to take future action in
or unreported situations, should the need arise.
Should I clean up
contamination caused by my leaking tank?
Yes, you should clean up contamination caused by a
spill or leak of heating oil. Leaks can pollute wells and streams, and the vapors can make
you or your children sick.
If you have contamination, you will probably want to hire American Distributing
Company. When the cleanup is completed, your cleanup contractor should give you a
copy of the cleanup report and "Tank Decommissioning" certificate.
Should I send a copy of the
cleanup report to Ecology?
Cleanup reports of minor leaks from residential
heating oil tanks do not need to be sent to Ecology. Ecology does not track or report on
these cleanups. The home owner should keep the written cleanup report for future reference
by lenders and potential buyers.
Cleanup reports on more extensive leaks from residential heating oil tanks should be sent
to the appropriate Ecology regional office (see Table 1). Ecology will keep track of and
report on these sites. Contact an Ecology
Office for your region.