Heating Oil Spills
Printable version of this
fact sheet (PDF, 52 KB)
oil is a hazardous substance.
Respond immediately to fuel oil spills.
up small drips and spills by following the instructions in this fact
sheet. For spills involving more than one gallon of
fuel oil, hire a cleanup company specializing in hazardous materials
and spill response.
home fuel oil spills occur
are two types of home fuel oil spills, small and large. Small spills
happen when a few drops of fuel oil drip out of the tank or pipes.
Large home fuel oil spills can occur when basement storage tanks are
overfilled, an attempt is made to fill a tank that has been removed, a
tank has overturned in a flooded basement, or fuel oil is accidentally put
into a septic tank vent or well casing. All large spills will
require some amount of professional help to clean up.
basics of cleaning up a basement fuel oil spill
Any Size Spill:
Always respond immediately to fuel oil spills, no matter how small.
The successful clean up of spilled fuel oil depends on a quick response.
Fuel oil that has soaked into concrete floors and wood support beams, or
has had time to flow into cracks or drains and get beneath floors and
walls will be more difficult to clean up. Sometimes demolition and
removal is the only option when walls and floors are saturated with fuel
oil. If fuel oil left the house through cracks in the floors, drain tile
systems, sump pumps etc. an environmental investigation may be needed
that includes collecting soil and groundwater samples and cleanup of
contaminated soil and/or groundwater.
It is important to use proper
clean up methods.
Prevent an explosion or
- Turn off all flame and spark sources. Don't
smoke or light matches in the area. Extinguish pilot lights on
furnaces, water heaters, and gas dryers. Turn off gas appliances that have
electronic ignitions. Do not attempt to clean up spilled oil with a shop vac or use any electric appliances or power tools. Keep all
sources of ignition away from the area until the spill is completely
Open windows to control
- Open basement windows to ventilate the area.
Close all basement cold air returns and heat registers, including
the basement door. Close other openings that may allow vapors to
enter the upper floors of your home. If your basement has been found
not to be in danger of exploding from the fuel oil vapors, you can also
ventilate the area with electric fans.
spills (anything less than a gallon) can often be cleaned up successfully
by the homeowner. Call a professional cleaning service if you need help
with the clean up, or if the fuel oil odors remain.
- When cleaning up a small fuel oil spill,
wear rubber gloves and old shoes or boots that can be thrown away.
Ventilate the area as much as possible during the clean up. Wash
exposed skin with soap and warm water.
Clean up the spill
- Spread an absorbent material, like cat
litter or sawdust, over the spill. Shovel the absorbed oil into
heavy-duty plastic bags. Keep the bags outside until they can be
picked up for disposal.
- Anything porous that came into contact with
the spilled oil should be removed and properly disposed of if can not be
cleaned. Examples are wood and drywall walls, carpeting and other
flooring, clothing, furniture etc.
- Use soap and hot water to clean the floor,
walls, appliances and other hard surfaces. Check under appliances,
such as the washer and dryer, to be sure all of the oily residue is
removed. Repeated cleanings may be necessary.
Large Spills (one gallon or more):
- If an oil delivery company was involved,
call them immediately to report the spill. If the oil delivery
company caused the spill, they can be asked to take care of the clean up.
- Report the spill to the Department of
Natural Resources (DNR) 24-hour hotline, 1-800-943-0003.
- Contact your local fire department to
determine if there is an explosion hazard. They may also be able to
provide fans to ventilate the area.
- You may also wish to contact your local
health department and home insurance agent.
- It is best to avoid breathing the fuel oil
fumes and minimize skin contact. Fuel oil contains many substances
which vary in their toxicity. Short term exposure may cause
headaches, nausea and dizziness, prolonged exposure can cause serious
- Consider staying at a motel or with
relatives until the clean up is complete. Moving out of your home
for a day or two may be a good idea, especially if there are young
children, elderly, or medically compromised people in the home.
Contact a cleanup company
about cleaning up the oil
- Call a professional cleaning service.
Your local health department or DNR office may be able to give you a list
of professional cleaning services in your area.
- If fuel oil has escaped the building as
noted above, an environmental consultant may be needed. They may
collect soil and groundwater samples to define the extent of contamination
resulting from the fuel oil that left the building, and to determine an
appropriate cleanup strategy.
What to expect after
the clean up
clean up of a fuel oil spill is not complete until odors are gone.
If fuel oil spills are promptly and completely cleaned, residual odors
should go away after several days. Persistent odors indicate a continued
source such as saturated cinder blocks, contaminated soils, wood and
drywall, sumps, or floor drains that need additional clean up.
use of chemical air fresheners is not recommended. These products merely
mask the fuel odor by adding other volatile chemicals to an already
complex mixture. Their use may increase symptoms in sensitive individuals.
concerns associated with fuel oil spills
exposure to fuel oil will not usually cause long-term harm. However,
breathing fuel oil vapors in an enclosed space like a basement can cause
some short term symptoms. At high concentrations (like those in
large spill situations), symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, and eye,
nose, or throat irritation. Getting fuel oil on the skin can cause
skin irritation. Some individuals may be more sensitive to these
effects than others. Even at low concentrations, the strong odor of
fuel oil can still make many people feel ill. Getting to fresh air
will usually relieve these symptoms.
long-term exposure to fuel oil odors in the home (exposure for many years)
has the potential for more serious health problems. These include
liver and kidney damage, increased blood pressure, other blood problems,
and cancer. A simple “rule of thumb” is if you can smell fuel
oil, there is an exposure risk.
See a doctor if you
have symptoms that don't improve when you are away from the fuel oil
call for help?
your oil delivery company. They may be able to help with the clean up.
The DNR 24-hour hotline for reporting spills is
Call your local fire department if you feel there is a fire
or explosion hazard.
Call your local health department or family physician for
health related questions.
Call your homeowner's insurance representative. Your policy
may provide financial assistance for clean up or temporary housing
Visit the department's website, http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/
PDF: The free Adobe
Reader® is needed to view and print portable document format (PDF)
Back to index page
Health Resource Directory
P-4150 Rev 08/2008
September 03, 2014