Heating oil leak causes stir in Gallitzin

GALLITZIN – A heating oil spill that occurred early Tuesday morning will require hazardous material workers to spend days digging out a basement to rid the home of contamination, but should not cause lasting damage, officials said Wednesday.

Nancy Knee, administrative assistant for Gallitzin Borough Sewer & Disposal Authority, said wastewater treatment plant operator Alfred Berardinelli first noticed a fuel-like smell Tuesday and called 911.

Berardinelli was able to trace the source quickly to a home along the 1000 block of Quarry Street, she said, where a heating oil tank had leaked.

Gallitzin fire department workers then flushed the combined line coming from the homeowner’s property to make sure no more oil made its way to the plant.

“It does cause disruption,” she said. “But the plant can handle it. It takes time.”

Knee said the leak did not cause permanent damage to the facility and would not impact customers.

Dave Nichols, co-owner of Altoona-based environmental spill response company Sugar Run Spills, said late Wednesday afternoon that he and workers were still at the home, hand-mucking the dirt floor with 5-gallon buckets to remove the contaminated soil.

“We cut up the tanks and got them out of here yesterday,” he said, but the hand-digging is time consuming.

“There’s 80 to 90 gallons in this one room,” he said. “We’re two feet down and still getting fuel.”

Nichols said the spill was caused by a rusted tank leg, which broke and caused the tank to lean.

“It snapped off the line that holds the fuel filter on,” he said, spilling both 275-gallon tanks into the drains and allowing the oil to travel miles away to the treatment facility.

They were able to recover 350 of the 530 gallons spilled, he said, but the remaining 180 gallons either was lost down the drain or seeped into the dirt-floor basement.

Nichols said the homeowners had the tanks refilled last month and hadn’t used the heat at all, making the leak even more severe.

Department of Environmental Protection officials also were on site earlier, Nichols said, and likely will stop back again when the project is nearing completion.

Nichols said it was lucky the leak didn’t occur near a stream, or it could have killed fish or other wildlife and caused other environmental damage.

While the homeowner’s insurance is covering the work, Nichols stressed that checking a fuel tank’s legs is important.

“It only takes one [broken] leg to tilt that tank,” he said, and damage can range anywhere from $200 to tens of thousands of dollars, especially if workers have to remove contaminated materials.

“Landfill costs go by tonnage of soil removed, and we have no idea … we’re definitely going to have 10 tons of soil,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.