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Pollution control - domestic oil spills

Over the past few years there have been a number of serious domestic oil pollution incidents.

Incidents of oil pollution can, by their nature, cause serious environmental damage, through the pollution of rivers and groundwater, threatening drinking water supplies, fish and other aquatic life, not to mention potentially harming health and property. The investigation and clean up costs can be in excess of £20,000.

The majority of residents who have domestic oil tanks assume that their home insurance policy would cover the clean-up costs following a spill. However, this is not always the case. We recommend that households check with their insurance companies, to ensure that both the immediate aftermath of an oil leak and the costs of any subsequent site investigations and clean-up are covered.

To help reduce the risk of oil leaks and spills you are advised to:

  • Regularly check your oil tank, boiler and pipes for leaks or corrosion
  • If you notice a sudden increase in the amount of oil you are using, check for leaks. Even a minor leak can add up to a large loss of fuel over time
  • Carefully check your current fuel stock before re-ordering and if possible supervise deliveries
  • Ensure your boiler is regularly serviced by an Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) registered engineer
  • Site new fuel tanks away from property boundaries, building openings, drains, streams and ponds. For further advice regarding tank locations contact the Building Control team at the Council

Identifying an oil leak

There are several warning signs that you may have an oil leak.

These include:

  • A strong smell of solvent, petrol or oil inside or outside your home or in your cupboards
  • Black stains and dead plants or grass around your tank
  • A sudden increase in the amount of fuel you use

If you suspect an oil leak, you should follow these steps:

  • If you do have an oil leak or spill at home, try to stop it at the source and use absorbing material such as sand to contain the oil and prevent it from entering drains and waterways
  • Try to find out where the leak is coming from
  • Switch off your oil supply at the tank and arrange to have it emptied (if needed)
  • Arrange for an engineer to repair or replace your tank or pipework
  • If the leak could affect a stream, pond or other water supply call the Environment Agency
  • Never use detergents or a hose to wash the spill away
  • Prevent the spill from entering drains by blocking its flow using earth, sand or commercial products that absorb oil
  • Keep your home well-ventilated by opening windows and doors
  • Call your household insurance company or landlord and make them aware of the leak
  • If there is a strong smell of oil in your home, call our Environmental Protection team
  • Do not put off taking action or assume the problem will go away

You are strongly urged to contact the Environmental Health department at your council, who will offer advice on the steps necessary to address the issue.  Failure to properly address a significant oil spill could lead to one or more of the following:

  • Major liabilities to compensate other adjacent landowners
  • Significant loss of value of your property
  • Determination of the land as "contaminated land" under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The council will not be able to clear up the spill for you, but will be able to offer advice on how to address the spill. 

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