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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010
Is a waste-oil furnace a waste of time?
By Zach Simeone
BERNE The highway department, having difficulty meeting the state’s standards, may soon have to stop accepting waste-oil from town residents.
Municipalities collect waste oil from different sources to offset the cost of heating oil for highway garages, town halls, and the like. The process is regulated by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Berne Highway Superintendent Kenneth Weaver had expressed frustration at a recent town board meeting that, while he was allowed to collect waste oil from town residents without having it tested, he was not yet allowed to get waste oil from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District.
“It’s kind of weird that I can take it form the public, when I have no idea what they’re doing with it,” Weaver told The Enterprise. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. The school, knowing this, said they’d keep it extra clean for me. They’ve got a large volume of it, and they said they’d keep it clean, knowing what the law is now.” He said that BKW’s waste oil would be enough to heat the town highway garage.
“But I can’t accept it, we can’t move it, and I haven’t been able to come up with a good answer as far as how I can get it,” Weaver said.
Last week, Weaver said that, in addition to not getting oil from the school district, the town couldn’t accept much more oil from residents because the highway department is running out of places to store it.
“We’re trying to get our tanks numbered and listed,” said Weaver. “But they notified us that we’re still not in compliance with numbering and listing the tanks that we do have. We can’t comply with any large-volume tanks without buying a very expensive setup, and they’re not even telling us really if we’re legal to do that. So we don’t even know where we stand with this.”
Testing and setbacks
Lori Severino, a spokesperson for the DEC, sought to provide some answers that would address Weaver’s concerns.
“In accordance with the Public Health Law and the Environmental Conservation Law, the used oil must be tested by a lab certified by the Department of Health's Environmental Laboratory Approval Program,” Severino wrote to The Enterprise in an e-mail. The testing, she said, typically takes one to two weeks.
Waste oil, she went on, is tested to see if it contains more than 5 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic; 2 ppm of cadmium; 10 ppm of chromium; 100 ppm of lead; 2 ppm.2 of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and 4,000 ppm of total halogens.
The liquid must also have a minimum flash point of 100 degrees Fahrenheit; the flash point of a liquid is the lowest temperature at which it can vaporize and become ignitable in air.
Severino went on to address private residents’ being able to avoid getting their oil tested.
“Private individuals who change the motor oil on their own vehicles, also known as do-it-yourself oil changers, or DIYs, are not subject to used oil regulation,” Severino wrote. “All other entities that generate used oil, such as vehicle repair shops, industries, bus garages, and highway maintenance garages, are regulated as used-oil generators.”
These generators are allowed to accept used oil from do-it-yourself oil changers, to encourage the recycling of used oil, and to discourage the illegal dumping of the oil.
Generators are also allowed to burn their own used oil, Severino went on, and oil they have accepted from DIYs. But, the generators are not allowed to transfer their used oil to other generators, unless the oil has been certified to be on-specification.
“On-specification used oil being directed for burning as a fuel is not subject to used-oil regulation,” Severino wrote. “The party that first declares a batch of used oil as on-specification is subject to the used oil marketing requirements.”
Weaver said he was under the impression that a third party could simply purchase the school’s waste oil whenever it wanted, but the town could not. Severino answered this as well.
“Any third party taking possession of the oil would have to already be subject to used oil regulation as either a transporter, transfer facility, processor, or re-refiner,” she wrote. “As such, that party is required to have an ID number from the [Environmental Protection Agency]. That party could not transfer the oil to the school district or any other used-oil generator with a used-oil-fired space heater for the purposes of burning in that heater unless that party performs an on-specification declaration of the oil and complies with the used oil marketing standards.”
But, if testing reveals that the oil is off-specification, the school district cannot then send the oil to another generator. The oil must instead be brought by a permitted waste hauler either to a permitted used-oil transfer facility, a processor and re-refiner, or a facility that can legally burn hazardous waste. A processor can convert off-specification oil into on-specification fuel, Severino wrote.
Weaver also said last week that the town had spent about $1,000 on a tanker for storing and transporting fuel oil, but he has been unable to get permission from the DEC to use the truck for the reasons it was purchased.
“It’s an actual truck that used to carry aviation fuel for airplanes,” Weaver said. “It’s legal for me to store oil in it, as long as it’s licensed. They are willing to let me use it to store oil here on site, but I can’t use it to pick up waste oil, which makes no sense.”
To this, Severino replied, “[DEC] Central Office staff have been in contact with a Region 4 Solid & Hazardous Materials person to discuss this question three months ago. At the time, it was unclear whether the proposed storage vessel was a container (mobile) or a tank (i.e., rendered stationary). There have been no further discussions on that issue with Central Office.”
In conclusion, Weaver said he is at a loss.
“If I don’t take it from the people, where does it end up? Most of these people, they’re going to dump it on the ground,” Weaver said in frustration last week. “The one thing the DEC doesn’t want is pollution. So, the way I see it, our accepting it and burning it is doing everyone a favor.”