Kevin Hunt: After Heating-Oil Spill, It's Windsor Homeowner Vs. Fusco Brothers


A routine home-heating oil fill-up went from mix-up to mess-up in a hurry last November at Wendy Wojnarowski's Windsor home.

After requesting a 100-gallon delivery, Fusco Brothers of Windsor arrived the next day and started pumping. When the pumpathon ended, 600 gallons had poured into her tank.

Oops. The homeowner, in such cases, usually makes the call: Pay for the additional oil at a reduced rate, usually at the oil company's operating cost that a day, or ask the oil company to remove the oil.

Wojnarowski says she never had a chance to decide because Fusco Brothers insisted on returning two days later to siphon the extra 500 gallons from the tank. Fusco Brothers promised a $25 credit to her account.

During the siphoning, though, oil spewed out of the tank, onto the floor and soon soaked into the bottom plate of a wall dividing the finished portion of the basement.

"I don't know exactly how much oil spilled, but one of the oil company employees said about 20 gallons," says Wojnarowski. "They cleaned up what they could. The smell was awful. Before he left he said he would put a $150 credit on my account for my inconvenience."

Wojnarowski contacted The Bottom Line in mid-January about the credits, which now totaled $175. She realized the initial $25 credit was missing after calling Fusco Brothers for another delivery. To get it, she was told, she would have to sign a release form.

A Fusco Brothers spokeswoman says the money is still available.

"I would be more than glad to give her a check," says a woman who identified as Linda, the company's office manager, but declined to give her last name, "if she gave me a release signed that everything was satisfactory, I did what I was supposed to and both parties are happy. The money has been in our system since Jan. 7."

Wojnarowski declined then, and declines now, to sign a release. So Fusco Brothers declines to pay.

"If there are problems in the future I don't want to be responsible," says Wojnarowski.

When Wojnarowski contacted TBL, she said her basement still smelled like oil.

"It is in the footings and the smell is still in the carpet," she said at the time. "I don't know who to call, what to do. I know they did not handle the clean-up properly, but at the time I was dealing with a death in the family and did not pursue it. I wish I had."

The Bottom Line told her who to call: The state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection's 24-hour spills hotline (860-424-3338). The state Department of Consumer Protection's Food and Standards division oversees heating-oil companies (and gasoline stations and propane dealers), but when oil spills, the DEEP wants to know. If it's a substantial spill, also alert the local fire department.

"Technically speaking," says DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain, "the 'responsible' party, in this case is the oil company, and the property owner should have reported the spill to us immediately so we could have assessed the situation and determine an appropriate response — meaning did we need to get out and oversee the clean-up or not."

The company that causes the spill and the homeowner share clean-up responsibility, according to state law. If the spill was caused by the oil company, a homeowner can sue to recover clean-up costs. If the state becomes involved in the clean-up, it can recover up to 200 percent of its expenses and seek penalties up to $25,000 a day for each violation.

"Assessing this case in hindsight," says Schain, "the spill seemed relatively small and it appears that the spill was contained and cleaned up."

Fusco Brothers did not report the spill until Jan. 15, when Wojnarowski said she was calling DEEP. The company reported the spill as one gallon that was contained and sanded. It also said it removed a rug.

Fusco Brothers' spokeswoman: "If it was 20 gallons, DEEP would have shut me down. It was less than half a gallon. If you know anything about the oil industry, a little bit of oil looks like a lot of oil."

Wojnarowski: "There was more than a half gallon soaked in my husband's jeans. He was sitting on the tank when it started overflowing. . . .

"The drivers used soak-up pads and a kitty litter-like material. Then they covered the area with a powder. . . . In hindsight, it should have been professionally cleaned. The oil soaked into the wood footing by the oil tank."

Wojnarowski, who is no longer a Fusco Brothers customer, says she never received the remaining $25 credit, though the oil company says it will pay that, too, if she signs a release.

If Wojnarowski reported the spill immediately to DEEP, then hired professional cleaners, she likely could have tried to recover the costs from Fusco Brothers.

"For all I know," she says, "I paid for the oil they spilled."

For information on state guidelines for clean-up responsibilities, visit http://bit.ly/1eW4S1E. For information on heating-oil contamination, consult the state Department of Public Health's fact sheet at http://www.ct.gove/dph/ieg.

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