EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire archives

December 26, 2007

Cleanup from heating oil spill drags on nearly one year later

SALEM - Nearly a year after a home heating oil spill at the home of Michael Demers, the house still reeks of petroleum, and several environmental officials said it might stay that way.

"I've never had (a cleanup) that's gone on this long, where the individuals have been displaced this long," said Bill Evans, an oil spill expert with the state Department of Environmental Services.

Workers from Haffner's Oil spilled the No. 2 fuel oil on Feb. 6. And although the cause of the spill is under dispute - a Fire Department report said the tank was overfilled, while the company said a "serious flaw in the heating tank and associated piping" caused the spill - the oil company's insurance has been paying for the environmental cleanup.

But state regulators don't require the company to return the property to its original condition. They only require the company to get pollutants to a level within state limits.

That means the house might still smell strongly of fuel oil when the cleanup is finished. As long as air quality reports show the pollutants are within state guidelines, there's nothing regulators can do, Evans said.

"Aesthetically, there may be odors that are noxious, or at least not aesthetically pleasing," he said.

That has Demers - who lived in the 21 Martin Ave. home with his mother, Suzanne Demers - worried that the cleanup will stop after the next round of test results.

"I'm saying there's still an odor in here," he said.

The environmental company hired to do the cleanup acknowledges the property won't be restored to its original condition.

"Our goal, again, is to achieve the state standards," said Geoff Brown, vice president of Enpro Environmental Services, the cleanup company.

And Brown's company is on the verge of meeting that standard.

"I think we're getting very close," he said. "But again, what we will rely on are the results (of tests last week)."

Demers is furious because he and his mother - who have been living in an extended-stay hotel in Andover, Mass., for more than 320 days - have already become sick from the fumes, he said.

He spends time in the house watching cleanup crews, and his mother has visited the house as well, he said.

Demers now said he wishes Haffner's had bought his $320,000 home outright when the spill first happened. By now, he said, Haffner's insurance company has likely paid more than the home's value for the cleanup and for housing the Demerses in a hotel.

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