DEP keeping eyes on oil tank spill cleanup at Pennwood Crossing in Falls

DEP keeping eyes on oil tank spill cleanup at Pennwood Crossing in Falls

Source:, August 8, 2017
By: Thomas Friestad

Two weeks after a 75-gallon spill of home heating oil at the Pennwood Crossing mobile home community in Falls, contractors have not yet begun to clean up the contaminated soil.

The community’s managers did, though, place and later remove kitty litter-esque chemical absorbent to soak up the oil around a resident’s property where the spill occurred. The spill was caused when an underground storage tank was punctured while being pulling from the ground with an excavator, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The agency was notified of the July 24 spill by a resident; it sent geologic specialist Dana Kutz to the site two days later.

While there, Kutz found that other oil tanks were being stored directly on soil with “sludge” still inside, including an uncovered 55-gallon drum filled halfway with oil, as well as with dirt “(smelling) of petroleum products” being used to fill the holes left behind, she wrote in a report to her department.

The punctured and stored tanks are among the approximately 900 that Pennwood Crossing is removing, Kutz wrote. The underground tanks are being replaced with above-ground ones behind residents’ mobile homes.

In Kutz’s report, it was noted that property manager Doran Johnson said that a resident of the home where the spill occurred told the contractor that the tank was empty. But the contractor, Bill Black, did not check the tank before removing it, Kutz wrote. This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching Black or Johnson for comment.

The report noted that Pennwood Crossing should remove all contaminated soil from the spill site — a home’s front yard — a process that would require workers to dig up a blacktop driveway.

The DEP did not specify a timeline for cleaning up the soil in its report.

When Kutz, along with DEP solid waste inspector Kirsti Kraus, visited a second time, on July 27, they found that all but two of the tanks resting on the soil were lifted into two pickup trucks. They also said that the pungent dirt in the holes left when the tanks had been dug up at some of the properties was topped with a non-smelling “clean fill,” but under that, the old dirt still remained. While the report didn’t address a solution to the old dirt, Kraus told the property manager that the contractor should screen his fill materials in the future to eliminate odor problems.

The DEP “requested” that the park hand over a sales receipt for “clean fill” being used and also a disposal manifest, so the agency can track where the tanks are ultimately placed.

Though the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate some heating oil tanks, the law does not cover smaller residential tanks such as those at Pennwood Crossing. The DEP also does not require certification for workers inspecting or installing residential tanks as it does with workers handling regulated tanks.

State law does, however, require tank owners — in this case, Pennwood Crossing — to report spills to the DEP as well as to take responsibility for cleanup. While Pennwood Crossing didn’t report the recent spill, it has hired Professional Tank & Environmental, a Tullytown-based tank service company, to take care of the cleanup, according to the DEP report.

Falls has no ordinance addressing heating oil specifically, but the township’s “manufactured homes and communities” ordinances do task community operators with “installation, replacement and maintenance” of their properties’ fuel tanks. These operators must also keep their communities free of “flammable material,” like heating oil. Violators could be found guilty of a summary offense and a fine up to $1,000 — it’s an additional offense and fine each day a violation remains unresolved. Falls has not yet fined Pennwood Crossing but township Manager Peter Gray did say the DEP would be keeping watch.

Department spokeswoman Virginia Cain, said he DEP will keep an incident report open until it receives a cleanup report from the park. Cain said the contractor has indicated he will complete the report.

In the meantime, several residents living near the spill site remain concerned about health hazards. One said the air around the yard still smells like petroleum, and community children still run through the soil and get oil on their shoes.

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