From: Bowe, Patrick
Friday, March 28, 2008 4:26 PM
Subject: Letter to Governor Rell regarding Mr. John Fitch

Dear Mr. Olmstead:

Thank you for writing to Governor Rell regarding the matter of Mr. Fitch's home heating oil tanks having leaked and contaminated soil and groundwater at his home in Lime Rock. The Governor has asked that the DEP reply to your interest.


Several web sites and stories have cropped up and so far the ones seen have not presented a fully accurate depiction of the facts surrounding Mr. Fitch's leaking underground storage tanks.


A quick summary of the situation follows:

Mr. Fitch had two 1,000 gallon underground oil tanks on his property for many, many years to supply heating oil to his home. Apparently the tanks were in excess of 50 years old and no regular testing or inventory control had been employed to detect leakage at an early phase. Typically one can expect about 7 to 15 years life span for a steel underground storage tank before it begins to leak it's contents. Time varies of course depending on many variables. They were determined by Mr. Fitch at some point to be leaking oil into the environment. It is possible these tanks may have been leaking oil for forty years or more.


After Mr. Fitch discovered that he had been maintaining two leaking tanks that had released a substantial amount of oil into the environment he decided to have them removed. He hired a private contractor, as is the norm in Connecticut where each individual person or business is responsible by state statutes for their actions, and that contractor took action pursuant to Mr. Fitch's direction.


Because of the levels of contamination found during the work, Mr. Fitch's contractor complied with existing state statutes that required reporting of the significant environmental hazard to the DEP. Subsequently the contractor performing excavations apparently mixed both clean and contaminated soils as well as leaving the site subject to ponding by precipitation which exacerbates the matter of the release of oil and it's clean up in part by resulting in the creation of considerable additional volume of contaminated soil.


Upon receipt of that notice of hazard notice, the DEP required Mr. Fitch to ensure that the wells (all drinking water in the area is supplied to residences by privately owned wells on the site of those residences) in the area were being sampled to ensure that none of the residences were having their drinking water supply contaminated by the oil released from Mr. Fitch's failing tanks. To date no neighboring wells appear to have been impacted.


There are many options available for dealing with below grade contamination by oil and excavation is certainly one of them. Once excavated, the soils need to be protected from erosion and movement to other areas, stored in compliance with general permit requirements applicable to all in Connecticut, and ultimately the threat to water supplies that they pose must be addressed. The soils can be treated, land filled, or incinerated among the options. The exact choice is the responsibility of the owner and his licensed environmental professional (LEP). When the work is complete, the LEP can inform the DEP of the steps that were taken and that the job has been resolved.


Many years ago there was a state sponsored fund which allowed residents with leaking tanks to obtain reimbursement for the cost of clean up of leaking oil (within bounds) when tanks were removed. That fund was voted out of existence by the legislature and has not existed since then. Currently all residents in Connecticut are required by statute to rely on their own resources, their insurance carriers, or other responsible parties should they exist, for resolving the costs of the clean up. When the state become involved in expending its resources to perform a clean up, the DEP is obligated to seek cost recovery (of up to treble damages) from the responsible party and may also lien the property involved. To date the DEP has not incurred expenses which require it to seek cost recovery.


Mr. Fitch is seeking assistance from several sources regarding the cost of resolving the situation that exists on his property and has retained the services of an attorney experienced in environmental matters. While rapid resolution may not immediately occur we are confident that Mr. Fitch will be able to resolve his oil spill issues. In the meantime the DEP and health officials will ensure that the neighboring wells remain safe for the residents to use.


Thank you for your interest in Mr. Fitch's situation.


Patrick Bowe, Director

Remediation Division

Dept of Environmental Protection