Originally Posted By: wpedley
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TUNKHANNOCK TWP. - Last Monday, Irene Shiffer worried that home heating oil prices were going up so much that she thought she better call her supplier.
Although she thinks she got a good price at $2.28 a gallon, when her son got home from work on Tuesday afternoon he found a lot more than she bargained for. He discovered an environmental catastrophe she figures is going to cost her more than $28,000 to clean up.
"The place smelled of diesel fuel," Brian Shiffer said Sunday.
And then he went downstairs and discovered that an oil tank had apparently exploded, leaving close to 275 gallons of heating oil on the basement floor and most of it eventually went outside through a water drain.
"He called me at work, and I came straight home," his mom said.
When she got home she discovered that much of the foods that she had canned this past summer, including salsa, spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, carrots and peas, peaches, beans, and the like was "one unholy mess with glass everywhere."
Jim Holmes, water quality specialist supervisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, was on location not long after the incident was reported.
So, too, were people from the county's hazardous materials unit and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Holmes said that it appeared to him that the person who did the heating oil delivery did not remove a vent cap, and hence pressure built up inside the tank.
"The air had no way to escape, and then an explosion took place," he said. "You can see for yourself from the tank."
None of her neighbors up on Shupp Hill heard any sort of explosion, but that could be because the closest one lives at least a half mile away and the tank's presence in the basement may have muted any sound.
"The broken jars tell the story though," Mrs. Shiffer said shaking her head. "What am I going to do?"
One of the first things she tried to do was determine who was at fault, but when she called Airline Petroleum, whom she had originally called to place the order Monday and whose name appears on the bill left behind, she said they denied any responsibility and gave her the run-around.
They also did not return calls for this story.
Mrs. Shiffer said that she had been living in the same residence since 1976 when she and her late husband returned to the area after he retired from a military career. The home had belonged to his parents' family for more than a century.
"I have been getting deliveries to this tank for years, and never had a problem until now, so I just don't understand," she said.
"DEP has already told me I have to clean the mess up, and that's what I'm going to do," she said.
But she acknowledged that she's not exactly sure where she's going to come up with the money to do the clean-up.
So she's also hired an attorney from the law firm of Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald.
"It was so bad I couldn't stay here Tuesday night because the fumes were so toxic," she said. "I had to do something or else even I couldn't live here."
A firm called Datom Products Inc. in Dunmore has been contracted to do what it calls "the remediation of a heating oil release."
On Monday, she said workers were already digging the basement out by hand to get the contaminated soil out and would be doing a lot more excavation beyond.
Holmes said the type of heating oil release that Mrs. Shiffer's tank experienced seems to happen somewhere every year, "usually in the fall. People always need to be reminded that oil tanks need to be in good working order and ready to receive more oil," he said.
Although Holmes said he was unsure how frequently the problem occurred in Wyoming County, his DEP colleague Eric Supey was able to do a regional check of the number of reported releases for regulated and unregulated tanks.
In 2004, there were 203 reported releases for both types of tanks in an 11-county area, Supey said.
The territory included all of Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
For tanks not regulated (that is, those which don't fall under the jurisdiction of Chapter 245 of the Pennsylvania Code), and which are most similar to what occurred at the Shiffer residence, there were 105 occurrences across the 11-county region in 2004.
Although not officially "regulated," Supey said a clean-up is still required under Pennsylvania's clean streams law which is designed to protect ground water found within the soil.
Inspecting for the unexpected