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Old oil tanks can suck up your nest egg

'I've seen it go up to $120,000 to remove (contaminated soil),' - don ellam; Massey Heights resident is spending $50,000 cleaning underground leaky oil tank

It was a surprise no homeowner wants to uncover.

A Massey Heights resident is spending $50,000 to clean up after discovering a surprise leaky oil tank that was buried on his property.

Peter Morrison's yard had to be dug up, the contaminated soil replaced and completely landscaped after he discovered the problem.

Morrison, who has lived in the postwar bungalow since 1981, didn't think he even had an outside oil tank because there had been one in the basement when he moved in.

The only sign of something lurking in the yard came a few years ago when he was having the drainage system around his house repaired.

Digging workers came across a pipe that was heading toward the house.

They asked Morrison if he had an outside oil tank, and he said "No" because of the indoor tank.

"Obviously, if I'd known there was an oil tank that would have been the right time to do it," he said.

A couple of years later his neighbour had an underground oil tank removed from his yard. Morrison remembered the pipe buried in his backyard.

"And I thought 'Oh, my gosh, I'll bet that's what that pipe was all about,'" he said. "I had a flashback."

Around that time, Morrison's wife had retired and they were considering moving. But before they could sell, Morrison thought they should check the yard and deal with whatever may be buried in it.

Sure enough, they found a tank, but it wasn't just sitting in the ground benignly.

"In my case, you could see lots of sort of pinholes of light coming through when the tank had rusted a little bit," Morrison said. "Then you are looking at a hole in the ground, and they have an environmental company come by and take samples from all four sides of the hole and from the bottom of the hole, and they confirm at that point whether your soil is contaminated above or below what is considered (OK)."

All four walls of soil that were tested failed.

"The tests were higher than considered acceptable - by quite a bit," he said.

Morrison didn't hesitate to clean up his property, despite the cost.

"About 40 tonnes of contaminated dirt later, I managed to get a clean reading again, and they filled in the hole," Morrison said.

It cost close to $30,000, and he estimates it will be another $20,000 for landscaping.

"That's right out of your home equity. That's right out of what you consider your nest egg when you are at my time of life," he said.

But, comparatively speaking, Morrison may have gotten off cheaply. He's heard of people paying anywhere from $90,000 to a whopping $400,000 to deal with contaminated soil from oil tanks.

The cost of clean up is one frustrating factor, but ultimately Morrison is upset that cities never enforced removal of underground oil tanks when they stopped being used.

"If I'm mad at anybody and would like recourse with anyone, it's the people that changed the regulation having recognized that it was not necessarily the right thing to do in the first place, and then didn't make an allowance for actually pumping them out," he said. "If you are going to change it, deal with the problem, but they didn't. They just filled the hole."

Many homes built between the 1920s and 1960s used oil as a heating fuel, and the underground oil tanks were buried close to houses.

Real estate agent Don Ellam, who's with Remax Advantage in New Westminster, said it's common practice for real estate agents from his company to make sure that the buyers they work with confirm whether a property has an oil tank before purchase.

"Everyone in our office, when you purchase, you put that clause in the contract," he said.

If there is an oil tank, the seller is generally responsible to have it removed. The cost for removal of an oil tank is anywhere from $500 to a couple thousand dollars, Ellam said.

Now, if the tank has leaked, that's a different story.

"I've seen it go to $120,000 to remove (contaminated soil)," Ellam said.

"Any home you buy in New West, you've got to make sure if it has an oil tank, it's dealt with," he said.

At least Morrison can say his oil-tank issue has been dealt with, even though the peace of mind has cost him a hefty sum.

For information on how to deal with an oil tank, visit the City of New Westminster's website at www.newwest

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