Toxic oil mixture illegally dumped into Portland catch basins, DEP investigating

Posted July 13, 2012, at 1:16 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — An illegal fuel dump into city catch basins this week threatened to emit poisonous vapors in nearby homes, according to Portland city officials who uncovered the activity.

Portland police and Public Services Department workers determined that between 150 and 200 gallons of a toxic fuel mixture were dumped into two catch basins near the corner of Falmouth and St. John streets, according to a city announcement Friday. Those catch basins empty into the city’s combined sewer and stormwater pipes and ultimately head to a nearby pump station.

“The illegal discharge caused a dangerous situation with the risk of poisonous gases leaking into nearby homes and the possibility of the fuels combusting within the drainage system,” reads the city statement on the incident.

City, state and local environmentalists were able to remove the oil from the catch basins before the dumping became a serious health risk to nearby residents, the city announcement said.

“Without the quick action and thinking of several city employees, this toxic pollution could have caused serious risk to the neighborhood, the city’s sewer system and the environment,” Portland Director of Public Services Michael Bobinsky said in a statement Friday. “Whether a catch basin drains to the bay or into the city’s sewer treatment facility, illegal dumping is a serious issue with long lasting environmental consequences. While this week’s example is extreme, we deal daily with waste improperly tossed down a catch basin. Whether it’s a cigarette butt, dog waste, lawn clips or motor oil, they need to be disposed of properly.”

The illegal discharge was discovered by a Public Services employee Tuesday morning, who smelled the dangerous fumes near the intersection. Police later discovered three empty barrels on a flatbed truck at Schnitzer Steel on Riverside Street and matched the chemicals found in the catch basins with samples taken from the barrels, the city announcement stated.

The barrels allegedly were sold to Schnitzer Steel by Dominique Covington, according to the city. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the incident and may levy fines.

“Improper disposal of oil is not only a violation of Maine law, but seriously threatens Maine’s environment and our drinking water as this harmful pollutant makes its way into nearby water bodies and water supplies,” Barbara Parker, director of Response Services for the Maine DEP, said in a statement Friday. “The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and countless local, state and federal entities work tirelessly to steward Casco Bay, and we ask that the public be our partners in its protection by properly disposing of used oil products at one of the dozens of convenient recycling centers that accept it — including several in Cumberland County — to ensure they do not injure this invaluable natural resource and public health.”

State environmental officials urge people who are aware of illegal dumping of oil or other hazardous materials to call their hotline at 800-482-0777 and visit their website for information about how to properly dispose of those substances.

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