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People who have home heating oil tanks should inspect them regularly to avoid leaks and spills, especially with the season’s coldest months ahead, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Nearly one in five households in the state use heating oil to heat their homes in the winter and those who own tanks, whether inside or outdoors, should check the them to prevent potential problems, according to the department.

Area heating oil companies also advise tank owners to have their tank inspected by a technician when they have their furnace cleaned annually, in addition to regular visual inspections especially with older tanks.

Tanks often rust from the inside out, unless they are in a wet environment or outside, said Bill Gallagher of Hazleton Standard Oil Co. A technician should inspect the legs, or structural supports, and tank for rust or rot, as part of the normal service, he said.

Owners should keep a fresh coat of paint on outside tanks to prevent rust, and keep things that can trap moisture, such as leaves, away from them, Gallagher said. Tanks in a dry area, or inside a home, can often last for 40 years without any problems, he said.

Mike Skotek of Skotek Oil in McAdoo agrees that a tank inspection should be done when the owner has their furnace serviced for the year to make sure it’s in good condition.

If people notice fuel odor or moisture toward the base of the tank, they need to take action, Skotek said. They may be developing a leak, which is only going to get worse with time, he said.

Skotek also reminded people to order oil before their tank is empty, because company’s like his can only accommodate so many people in dire need when bitter cold settles in or there is a storm, he said.

“Don’t wait until there is a storm,” he said. “We do delivery on nice days.”

Leaking heating oil tanks can contaminate drinking water and soils, diminish indoor air quality, create the potential for fires and explosions and subject the tank owners to very expensive cleanups, which may not be covered by homeowner insurance policies, according to DEP.

The department also advises people to check the tank’s fill line and feed line to the furnace for leaks, or check for signs that a vent line is clogged by debris, such as spider or bee nests. Odors or wet spots can signal a problem, and people should enlist the help of a professional to perform maintenance on a tank.

If a spill or leak happens, tank owners should:

-Find the source of the spill or leak and stop or contain the release using absorbent material like cat litter, sawdust, peat moss or newspaper to stop the release from spreading.

-Call the oil company to remove as much oil from the tank as necessary to prevent further release.

-Notify the municipality and DEP.

-Ventilate the affected area, if heating oil odor is getting into the house, and close off unaffected areas.

-Contact environmental professionals to begin the cleanup.

-Keep detailed, accurate records.

-Contact the insurance provider.