Home >> Why have it inspected ? >> Oil tank and oil contamination

For some, oil heating is indeed a sustainable solution. However, the contamination, which can be caused by the 40,000 abandoned tanks in Quebec, represents a real "time bomb" for new buyers.

L is soil contamination with oil is a widespread problem throughout the Quebec territory. It is because fuel oil, also known as heating oil , was until the 1970s the choice of the majority of the population. The oil was affordable, readily available, and cleaner than the coal that came before it.

Gradually, people converted to electricity and other methods of heating. The fuel oil was left behind as was, in many cases, the tank that was used to store it. Several of these tanks were at the time buried in the ground and were abandoned without thinking too much about it .

What makes an oil tank problematic?

Many people believed that their tank, being empty, would not cause them any problems in the future. However, the receptacles were hardly ever empty; the power outlet drawing the oil to the house was still installed a few inches from the bottom of the tank. The result is therefore a small toxic puddle at the bottom of the tank which, left to itself over several years, eventually causes oxidation which eats away at the walls.

It is only a matter of time before a hole forms and the toxic sludge contaminates the surrounding soil. In some cases, the oil tank being buried near the house, contaminants find their way to the drains of the residence. The smell will be very strong for visitors although the inhabitants of the house may be used to it. A certified building inspector can pinpoint the problem with certainty and advise you of your choices for decontamination.

How do I find a buried fuel oil tank?

A building inspector can help you detect and find a buried tank. They are often found buried s to within a meter of the surface.

It is also possible to detect them with ground penetrating radar or an electromagnetic survey.

What if my soil is contaminated with fuel oil?

When you have established that your soil contains an abandoned tank, you must hire a specialist company to remove it. This is a delicate operation which requires a specially trained workforce since the situation could easily be aggravated.

Most of the time, sanitation is done by removing the soiled soil as well as all the mechanical components present. Depending on the extent of the spill, the work can be done manually or with a power shovel.

Some non-excavation methods are currently in development:

  • Biorestoration (the injection of biological agents into the soil)  
  • Phytoremediation (the use of plants to neutralize contamination) 
  • Chemical oxidation (treatment with oxygen è not that stimulates biodegradation) 
  • Biorespiration or multi-phase extraction (simultaneous suction of liquids and pumping of air) 
  • The injection of air into the water (promotes the degradation of hydrocarbons)
First, it is important to determine what types of contaminants are present. Your building inspector can recommend that you have samples of your soil analyzed and advise you on the procedure to follow.

Who is responsible for decontamination?

Are you interested in buying land, a house, a building, a lot? It is prudent to hire a certified building inspector to do the full inspection. Sometimes inspection reveals that an old oil tank is abandoned near the house, or that a building once burned down and ashes and debris have been buried. Maybe the previous owner was a hobby mechanic and oil spills are strewn across the back yard.

It is also possible that you want to sell your land but are not sure if it contains a buried oil tank . In this case, if a buyer later discovers soil contamination, they could take legal action against you.

Whatever the situation, it’s important to be informed. A home inspector is the best person to guide you through this process.

Can the soil be contaminated with other materials?

Fuel oil is not the only contaminant that can affect your land, on the contrary! Here is a list of the most common causes of contamination:
  • Fires and ashes of all kinds 
  • Everything related to oil and petroleum  
  • Chemical manufacturing 
  • Food production 
  • Animal husbandry  
  • Extraction of minerals and metals 
  • Wastewater treatment and snow deposit  
  • Car repair 
  • Cement and asphalt manufacturing 
  • Pulp and paper manufacturing 
  • Improper storage of hazardous products