Press Release

BALTIMORE (October 22, 2003) – As part of the recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, state officials are implementing a coordinated plan to remove soil contaminated by heating oil from the exterior of homes along the coastal areas of the Chesapeake Bay at no cost to homeowners.

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to provide funding for 75 percent of the eligible costs to the State of Maryland for cleaning up homeowner’s yards contaminated with home heating oil spilled during the storm surge caused by Hurricane Isabel. Maryland state government is paying for the remaining 25 percent.

Hurricane Isabel’s high winds and storm surge dislodged an undetermined number of home heating oil tanks, spilling thousands of gallons of oil and leaving thousands of gallons abandoned inside of the dislodged tanks. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved to gather the remaining abandoned oil and, by the end of September, more than 50,000 gallons of oil had been recovered from those tanks.

Now the challenge is to deal with the oil spilled on the ground. A Soil Contamination Management Plan has been developed to achieve the task. Oil that spilled on the ground has the potential to contaminate ground water and pose health risks to residents that rely on well water for drinking.

“The cooperation of FEMA, state and local government was absolutely essential in addressing this difficult public health and environmental issue,” said Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott who is coordinating the state’s response to Hurricane Isabel.

MDE has taken the lead in the effort and has identified almost 500 contaminated properties. “It is important homeowners know that this action is necessary to protect their health, waters of the state and assist in getting their lives back to normal,” said MDE Acting Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “We ask and appreciate full homeowner cooperation with those involved in this recovery mission. Any concerns should be directly communicated to MDE.”

FEMA has approved a request by the State of Maryland to fund the effort under FEMA’s Public Assistance Program. “This is the first time that FEMA and the state have tackled a soil remediation project of this magnitude,” said William M. Lokey, federal coordinating officer in Maryland. “I am pleased that we are able to assist this proactive posture with our state partners to alleviate this contamination problem.”

State and federal partners are coordinating actions at identified sites with MISS UTILITY, so that as contaminated soil is removed, buried utility lines will be undisturbed. A major component of the cleanup effort is obtaining legal permission to enter identified properties and obtain soil samples. The Maryland Department of General Services (DGS) is contracting commercial firms to obtain soil samples from properties. The purpose of the soil samples is to determine the extent of contamination and the amount of soil that must be removed.

Property owners with contaminated soil as a result of the storm can help speed the recovery process by quickly signing and returning Site Assessment Agreements. MDE staff will be going door-to-door in affected areas distributing the agreements.

Additionally, DGS is using contractors to conduct the removal of the soil and replace it with clean fill, then restore the sites with topsoil, grass seed and straw mulch. DGS also will contract to have the contaminated soil hauled to appropriate sites for disposal.

Remediation operations will begin in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, two of the jurisdictions with the heaviest impact from the Hurricane Isabel storm surge. Recovery operations are expected to begin in the next 24 hours. Homeowners with oil impacted properties are urged to call MDE’s Oil Control Program at (800) 633-6101, ext. 3442.