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Clean Up Spilled Fuel Oil Thoroughly

If flooding caused your heating oil to spill in or around your home, report the spill to your oil delivery company and contact your insurance agent.

Here are some other steps to take for fuel oil spills in your home:

  • If you did not shut off your furnace before the flooding, turn it off as soon as possible to minimize vapor distribution throughout the house.
  • Keep flames and other sources of ignition away from the spill or leak area.
  • Open windows to ventilate the area.
  • Wear rubber gloves, overshoes and a proper respirator when in the area.
  • Do not track oil from the spill area to clean parts of the house.

“The vapors from fuel oil spills or leaks are extremely penetrating and volatile,” says Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer. “Hiring a professional spill response company to remove the fuel oil is your best option.”

Exposure to high levels of oil fuel vapors, even for a short time, can cause nausea, increased blood pressure, eye irritation, headaches, light-headedness and poor coordination. Longer exposure can cause similar reactions and also may affect the blood, liver and kidneys. The elderly, very young and people with respiratory diseases may be especially sensitive to the effects of inhaling fuel oil vapors. Fuel oil that comes in contact with the skin may cause irritation and blistering. If you are experiencing health problems, contact your health-care provider or seek medical help.

To keep the vapors from spreading throughout the house, keep all doors, laundry chutes, etc., between the basement and living space closed. Use a sheet of plastic to partition off stairways that do not have a closable door between the basement and the first-floor living space.

Fans can help control odors. Exhaust basement areas by blowing air out through a single window. Do not have other basement windows open. If the only opening to the outdoors is a walkout basement door, then place a large fan in the doorway, blowing out. If possible, reduce the open space around fans to increase their effectiveness.

Any fans in the living space must blow air in from outdoors, with other windows open minimally. Keep any windows near the basement exhaust closed to prevent contaminated air from re-entering the home. Do not operate central heating or air conditioning.

For spills under a mobile home, remove the skirting for aeration. Be prepared to aerate for days or even weeks.

If a layer of oil is floating on top of the water in your basement, remove the oil before pumping the water out to keep the oil from spreading and contaminating other areas, including nearby wells, water bodies and homes.

Oil-absorbent “socks” may be sufficient to collect a thin layer of oil. Contact your local fuel supplier for a source of absorbent pads. A vacuum truck may be necessary to skim off a thicker layer of oil. Contact a waste oil or sanitary sewer hauler allowed to handle industrial waste for help.

Cleanup of a fuel oil spill is not complete until odors are gone. If spills are cleaned up promptly and completely, residual odors should disappear in several days. Persistent odors indicate a contaminated source has not been removed.

Fuel oil that absorbed into structural wood, cider blocks or soil may be difficult to remove. These areas may need additional cleanup or they may need to be removed and disposed of at an approved landfill.

Hard surfaces, such as glass or metal, can be cleaned with detergents, degreasers or other cleaners intended for petroleum removal. You can buy those products from hardware stores. Removing the oil will require several washings and rinses. Odors should decrease after each wash and rinse. Some homeowners have used steam cleaning. Plug the floor drain so oil isn’t washed into the sanitary system.

If you cannot find cleaners intended for petroleum, products such as Dawn dishwashing liquid, Simple Green and white vinegar have proven effective. Do not mix these products. Use them with hot-as-possible water. Rinse with water after using the cleaning solution. If possible, collect the rinse water in towels or a shop-vac, or somehow divert the water from the house.

Porous materials, such as removable wood, boxes, fabrics, Sheetrock or insulation, most likely will need to be discarded. Remove contaminated items and materials and stockpile them outside the home on plastic and covered with plastic. Use Oil-Dri, cat litter or other absorbent materials available at home improvement stores to absorb any remaining oil. Place nondripping material in doubled garbage bags. Seal the inner bag tightly and separately from the outer garbage bag.

Check with a professional cleaning company for information on cleaning or deodorizing household furnishings.

If the spill occurred on soil, remove as much of the impacted soil as possible.

Also take steps to minimize your exposure to fuel oil when doing any cleanup work. For example, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and gloves (rubber if available). Work in areas that have been ventilated.

Do not use chemical air fresheners. These products merely mask the fuel odor by adding other volatile chemicals to an already complex mixture and can increase symptoms or cause health problems in sensitive individuals.

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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