Site Cleanup for Homeowners

Dealing with a spill or contamination problem on your property can be particularly difficult and stressful for homeowners. Understanding the rules, learning all the new terms and procedures, and working through the system can be overwhelming at times. The following series of explanations, guidelines, recommendations, and tips are provided to help you through the process of preventing and cleaning up spills on your property.

Table of Contents

Contamination at Your Home or Business?

Once you've had a spill, or observed contamination in the environment, certain actions are necessary. General advice for the most common contamination scenarios are provided in the guidance below.

Key Actions   for Contamination at Your Home or Business?

Additional Resources   for Contamination at Your Home or Business?

Reduced Fees

36   Homeowners Self-Certified for Lower Fees in 2016

Some homeowners qualify for reduced permit and annual compliance fees. Qualifying homeowners must submit a certification on a MassDEP approved form to realize the reduction in fees.

The definition of "homeowner" (for this purpose) comes from the Timely Action Schedule and Fee Provisions (310 CMR 4.02): 

A Homeowner is an owner occupant of a residential one to four family structure who has provided a written certification on a Department approved form and whose structure has been used exclusively as a one to four family residence throughout his or her ownership, where the owner's unit is the owner's principal residence for 6 or more months of the year and the owner is conducting response actions at the residence in response to a release of oil.

Check Your Insurance Coverage

Since 2010, Massachusetts law mandates that insurance companies offer coverage for leaks from oil  heat systems and that homeowners install specific leak-prevention systems (either an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with protective sleeve).   Most homeowner policies do not currently include such coverage, leaving many to pay for costly cleanups out of their own pocket. The insurance is an optional purchase.

The Fact Sheet below describes what you can do to qualify for and purchase this insurance.

Additional Resources   for Check Your Insurance Coverage

Dealing with Heating Oil Spills

One of the most common environmental problems a homeowner may encounter is a leaking heating fuel tank.  Heating oil may be stored in underground storage tanks (USTs) adjacent to a home, or in above-ground storage tanks (ASTs) in a basement or garage.

If a tank leaks, the oil may move through the ground and into the groundwater, spreading onto neighboring properties.  Leaking oil can contaminate indoor air and threatening nearby drinking water wells.

Because leaking heating oil tanks are so common, MassDEP has prepared several guidance documents to help homeowners through the cleanup process.

Key Actions   for Dealing with Heating Oil Spills

Additional Resources   for Dealing with Heating Oil Spills

Sampling and Interpreting Results

An important part of the site cleanup process involves looking for contamination on a property - sampling the air water or soil to find out what pollutants may be present.

MassDEP has prepared a series of fact sheets on site contamination, health concerns and sampling air, water and soil for potential pollutants.  While this information was developed with homeowners in mind, they may be helpful for anyone with questions or concerns about contamination in the environment.

Additional Resources   for Sampling and Interpreting Results

Other Environmental Hazards

In addition to issues - such as leaking heating oil tanks - that fall under the the state site cleanup program, there are other environmental concerns that a homeowner may face.  The following is a list of common problems and links to the MassDEP program that address them.


In many older homes, asbestos-containing materials were used for insulation of furnace/stove piping and associated ductwork.  In some homes, asbestos-containing cementious siding materials and shingles were used.  In either case, the inappropriate removal and disposal of these materials could expose you or your neighbors to cancer-causing asbestos fibers.  For that reason, there are strict regulations on how these materials must be handled, and where they can go.  Contact the MassDEP Service Center for more information and details if you are planning renovations that will involve disturbance or removal of these materials.  Note that the unpermitted removal and disposal of asbestos materials is not only illegal, but may also result in the creation of a "hazardous waste" site that would fall under the jurisdiction of MGL c. 21E and the Massachusetts Contingency Plan - and necessitate an expensive cleanup.

Automotive Waste

Do-it-yourself auto maintenance and repair can save you time and money, but you should be careful with used motor oil, dirty oil filters, antifreeze, dead batteries and other automotive wastes. Handled or discarded improperly, they can pose serious risks to your health and environment. This page provides information on how to properly dispose of used oil and filters, antifreeze, batteries and tires.

Storm Preparedness & Emergency Response Resources 

Links to MassDEP and other webpages containing information that will help homeowners, municipal officials and others deal with cleanup and recovery following a flood.

Lead in Soils

Lead poisoning is one of the top environmental health threats to children. Over time, exposure to even low levels of lead can affect a child's growth, behavior, and learning ability. Children under six years of age are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.

If your private well has been contaminated by oil or hazardous material you should contact MassDEP Emergency Response at (888) 304-1133 and your Local Board of Health office immediately. Click on the link below for general information on private well guidance material, model Board of Health's regulations, urban area wells, well yield estimating, and frequently asked questions.

Septic Systems

Septic systems, and especially cesspools and drywells, are direct routes to the environment.  NEVER discharge gasoline, oils or chemicals into these systems.  Not only is this illegal, but it has the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater, and create a "hazardous waste" site that will be very costly to clean up.  Of particular concern are chlorinated solvents, like trichloroethylene (TCE), trichloroethane (TCE) or perchloroethylene ("perc") - some of which were in the past marketed as drain cleaners.  These chemicals are heavier than water, and will "sink" if discharged to the groundwater.  They are also resistant to biological breakdown, and can travel great distances (up to a mile or more) in the groundwater.  BWSC is aware of a number of neighborhood communities where private drinking water wells have been impacted (or shut down) because of contamination that likely came from septic system/dry well discharges.

Image credits:  Boston Light (Paul Locke)

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