PORTLAND – State environmental officials are investigating the illegal dumping of 150 to 200 gallons of old home heating oil in two stormwater catch basins at Falmouth and St. John streets.

Public works employees discovered the condensed black oil Tuesday morning, when they followed noxious fumes to the catch basins, then notified police and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Friday.

Police tracked the likely source of the waste oil to three home heating oil tanks that had been sold for scrap at Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc., a metal recycling company on Riverside Street. Oil samples taken from the tanks matched the liquid that had been found in the catch basins.

“This is a flagrant violation of Maine’s environmental laws, of respect for our natural resources and of common sense,” said DEP spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren. “We deal with about 3,000 oil spills every year, many of them accidental. It’s frustrating when people do it intentionally.”

A Schnitzer employee told investigators that a person identified as Dominique Covington, who lives in the neighborhood of the catch basins, sold the tanks as scrap metal and was paid $69 for them, said Depoy-Warren.

Covington couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

It’s unclear where the tanks originated. Two of them were standard 275-gallon models and the other was older, smaller and apparently hand-fabricated.

DEP staff members oversaw the removal of the heating oil from the catch basins and are investigating the incident further before issuing fines or filing charges, Depoy-Warren said.

Depending on the quantity and circumstances of illegal oil disposal, responsible parties may be fined, forced to pay for the cleanup and/or charged with a criminal violation of the state’s oil spill laws.

The penalty for this week’s incident could be hefty. The DEP recently fined a Cape Elizabeth resident $1,700 after he changed the motor oil in his car while attending his kid’s sporting event and dumped a few quarts of waste oil in a storm drain, Depoy-Warren said.

It’s illegal to dump waste of any kind in storm drains, including motor oil, cigarette butts, dog feces and hypodermic needles. In Portland, storm drains are part of the combined stormwater and sewage treatment system that empties into Casco Bay.

Any petroleum waste or other hazardous liquids must be brought to a center authorized by the DEP to be part of the Maine Oil Recycling Program.

Dumping such a large amount of flammable, toxic liquid into storm drains at Falmouth and St. John streets endangered people in the neighborhood and beyond, said Michael Bobinsky, the city’s public services director.

“Without the quick action and thinking of several city employees, this toxic pollution could have caused serious risk to the neighborhood, the city’s (sewerage) system and the environment,” Bobinsky said.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his officers are rarely called to investigate environmental violations, but they knew right where to look for leads. They often check recycling companies for stolen items that have been sold for scrap, and they figured the culprit might have turned in oil containers for cash.

Sauschuck said, “Water is one of our most important resources, and if people are being reckless in disposing toxic substances, we want to help in the investigation and act as a deterrent.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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