DEEP: Responsibility for Cleaning of Spills Posing Environmental Threat

Responsibility for Clean Up of Spills
Posing a Threat to the Environment

Definition:  A spill is defined in Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) Section 22a-452c.  A spill means the discharge, spillage, uncontrolled loss, seepage or filtrations of oil or petroleum or chemical liquids or solid, liquid or gaseous products or hazardous waste. 

Reporting Requirements:  All spills must be reported and dealt with quickly.  Connecticut environmental law establishes what is called strict liability for spills of most pollutants into the environment.  This means that the person or business that caused the spill and the owner of the property where the pollution occurred, including homeowners with underground fuel tanks, are responsible for cleaning up the spill (reference CGS Section 22a-451).  They are also responsible even if the spill was not their fault.  They may be able to bring legal action against the party who was at fault. 

The party that caused the spill or pollution and the property owner should contain the spill immediately and should notify the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) immediately.  They should do so by notifying the CT DEEP's Emergency Response and Spill Prevention Division (ERSPD) at 860-424-3338 or toll free at 1-866-337-7745 (1-866-DEPSPIL) and by notifying the appropriate local authorities.

Spill Clean up and Recovery of Expenses:  After there is a spill, the CT DEEP will attempt to identify the parties that caused the spill and the property owners.  CT DEEP personnel will advise the parties of their legal responsibility to clean up the pollution and will attempt to get these parties to take appropriate action to clean up the spill immediately.  As required by CGS Section 22a-454, any clean up must be performed by a licensed contractor (PDF).  If neither the person who caused the pollution nor the property owner makes immediate proper arrangement for cleaning up the pollution, the state may make arrangements to clean up the spill.

Under CGS Section 22a-451, the state will take action to recover all of its clean up expenses:

  • These expenses will include administrative costs and the recovery of legal expenses and court costs calculated at 15% of the actual cost paid by the state and 10% interest.
  • A responsible party may avoid administrative costs, the recovery of legal and court costs and interest charges only if payment is received in full within 30 days from the date the CT DEEP sends a collection letter.
  • If the pollution was caused through negligence, the state can recover 150% of its expenses.
  • If pollution was caused knowingly, the state can recover 200% of its expenses.
  • The state may also initiate other types of enforcement action, some of which can involve civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation.
A Significant Number of Spill Events Involve Leaking Underground Storage Tanks:  Many spills are the result of leaking underground storage tanks. If you have an underground tank containing petroleum product at a business or commercial site, you are required to comply with specific regulations.  Regulatory references are the following:  40 CFR 280, 22a-449(d)-1(g);
22a-449(d)-104; 22a-449(d)-1(e); and 22a-449(d)-110.  These requirements include:
  1. keeping on-site all required records of daily inventory readings, including weekly and monthly reconciliation to identify and immediately cease any discernible losses;
  2. complying with all applicable state and federal leak detection requirements, including maintenance of automatic tank gauging systems (ATGs), annual tightness testing of pressurized piping and scheduled tightness testing of tanks, as applicable; and
  3. properly closing any Underground Storage Tank (UST) system components, which have exceeded usage deadlines.  Please note that bare steel UST components for gasoline, motor fuel, waste oil and CERCLA chemical storage have been illegal since December 22, 1998 or the 20th year after installation, whichever came earlier.  Fines have been levied in all cases of violation of the December 22, 1998 deadline.  For underground heating fuel storage, no bare steel tanks or integral piping can be used beyond the 20th year of the installation.  Effective November 1, 2005, even bare steel heating fuel UST components, installed just prior to the prohibition for bare steel installations in 1998, will be illegal.      

In addition, residential property owners are responsible for spills caused by home heating fuel tanks if they leak. The CT DEEP recommends that any bare steel residential underground storage tank be closed out and replaced with above ground or basement tanks.  Please be advised that most releases from USTs result from failures in the integral piping.  An indicator where a problem may be occurring is when there is an abnormal use of heating fuel, which would suggest a lot of product. Guidance for Residential Underground Fuel Tank Releases (PDF)

Disclaimer:  This Fact Sheet is intended to provide a brief informational summary of responsibility for cleaning up a spill.  It is not intended to be complete legal guidance on this subject, nor is it intended to be a binding statement as to the position of the state on any issue that may arise out of a spill.  Nothing in this Fact Sheet should be construed to bind the state or to create any expectations as to how the state may respond.

Content Last Updated November 7, 2011