Swift response to illegal dumping of oil prevents catastrophe | News
PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The quick actions of a city employee are being credited with helping prevent a catastrophe and helping police catch the person responsible for dumping as much as 200 gallons of old heating oil into the city's storm water system.
"It is very disappointing," stated Michael Bobinsky, Director of Public Services for Portland. "I think given the public education that is surrounding clean water and anti-pollution, the investments as you stated that the city has made to clean up our sanitary system and improve water quality in all aspects of our city, so for that to occur so blatantly, it is really a shock."
Last week, someone dumped between 150 and 200 gallons of heating oil into a catch basin at the corner of St. John and Falmouth Streets. A public services supervisor checking on a nearby sidewalk project smelled the fumes and contacted authorities.
The city's police and fire departments responded and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection was called in to help with the clean-up.
"We were able to mitigate would could have been catastrophic damage to the waste water treatment plant, because where that flow was heading was in fact the East End Treatment Plant," explained Bobinsky. He says vapors from the oil could also have caused an explosion in the neighborhood, and the oil itself could have damaged the pipes if it had not been found so soon.
Portland Police officers were able to track down the man they believe is responsible, Dominique Covington. Police officers checked with scrap yards in the area, and found the same fuel mixture that was dumped into the catch basin in three old heating oil tanks that he allegedly sold for scrap.
"We were able to catch most of it and pump that out to remove it, which was fabulous," said Barbara Parker, Director of the Division of Response Services for the Maine DEP. "It was a large amount and that particular individual had bought a few - two or three - 275 gallon oil tanks, and so they had oil left over in them and oil slop, so he looked to get rid of that in the easiest way possible."
Parker says the DEP responds to roughly 3000 oil spills and hazardous chemical incidents each year, but it is rare for the events not to be an accident.
"We get very few intentional dumping cases, probably less than one percent," she said. "The general public is very aware of the dangers of spilling oil or hazardous materials. They understand how oil can get into the ground water and pollute your drinking water wells, or how it is toxic to the marine or aquatic environment, so when the general citizens see someone illegally dumping they often call us right away or they call the police in their locality as well."
The Maine DEP investigation into the illegal dumping is ongoing, but Parker says Covington could face stiff fines, criminal charges and could be required to pay for the clean-up.
"There's a wide variety of ways to get rid of waste oil legally and safely that doesn't put the public or the environment at risk," added Parker.