Cleanup crew pays for Schoharie mistake

A small, ironic footnote to this summer’s epic tropical storms — an environmental cleanup firm accid

A small, ironic footnote to this summer’s epic tropical storms — an environmental cleanup firm accidentally causing an environmental mess of its own — will yield $2,000 for local environmental cleanup efforts.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation levied a $750 fine against Clean Harbors Environmental Services for a Sept. 26 incident in which the Masschusetts-based company spilled fuel oil it had cleaned up, according to a consent order dated Jan. 6. The $2,000 donation is part of the same consent order.

A crew from Clean Harbors was using a vacuum truck to pump oil and water from residential basements in the village of Schoharie, then pouring the vacuum truck’s contents into a container, according to DEC Region 4 spokesman Rick Georgeson. The container, called a “frac tank,” allows sediments to sink while oil is separated from the water in the tank.

Typically, the separated water is run through a carbon filtration system before being released into the nearest stream, but in this instance, the company pumped all the fluid from the tank — including heating oil — into the filter system, which can’t treat it, Georgeson said. As a result, an estimated 200 gallons of the oil-laden water was dumped into a tributary leading to the Schoharie Creek.

The company cleaned up the mess, according to the DEC consent order, and employees were provided with more training following the incident.

The spill represents a violation of state Navigation Law, punishable with a fine of up to $25,000 per day, according to the DEC.

The company is being ordered to establish a $2,000 escrow account for environmental benefit projects that have not yet been detailed.

The Schoharie Creek took on a variety of pollutants from numerous sources following flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee, including raw sewage, heating oil and gasoline. The environmental impact of all the pollution in the water is unclear, but officials at the DEC have said petroleum products dissipate quickly and fish are often resilient enough to weather flooding incidents.

Clean Harbors Environmental Services could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Categories: Schenectady County

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