Derry City & Strabane - Environmental Health
Health & Community Wellbeing




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Oil Spills

Advice on Oil Leaks

Most people in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area use oil to heat their home. An oil leak can be very difficult to clean up and result in considerable cost and inconvenience to the householder. In some circumstances houses need to be vacated because oil has soaked into the ground nearby producing fumes and odours, making it impossible to live in the properties. Oil is also flammable and can create a risk of fire or explosion.  If there is any doubt contact the Northern Ireland Rescue Service and in the event of an emergency phone 999.

Health Effects

A leak of oil near your home can give rise to a risk to your health.

Fumes from oil can give symptoms such as:

  • Feeling Drowsy/Light Headed
  • Headaches
  •  Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sore throats

Oil in contact with skin can cause irritation and possible secondary infections.

Ingestion of oil can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and coughing and wheezing.

Possible Sources of an Oil Leak

  •  Accidental fracture of fuel supply line
  • Overfilling of an oil storage tank
  • Accidental spillages
  • Faulty installation of new oil fired central heating system
  • Corroded metal on a domestic oil storage tank or pipework
  • A cracked plastic oil storage tank
  • Deterioration of pipeline between an oil storage tank and a house
  • An un-serviced boiler
  • Defective oil filling indicator
  • The tipping of oil tanks to maximise the availability of oil
  • Flooding which can float an oil tank and/or crack pipework
  • Significant ground frost which can cause ground to expand/shift cracking pipework
  • Vandalism


How to Identify a Possible Leak?

  • A strong smell of solvent, petrol or oil inside or outside your home or in your cupboards
  • Visual sightings of a leak i.e. black staining, dead plants or grass
  • A ‘rainbow’ sheen on soil or standing water
  • An increase in the rate of fuel normally used


What to do if you Suspect an Oil Leak or a Leak Occurs

Do not

  • Delay taking action or assume the problem will go away
  • Drink any water suspected to be contaminated by oil
  • Use detergents or a hose to wash the spill away


  • Contact your Insurance Company and/or Landlord as soon as possible and make them aware of the leak.  Your Insurance Company may appoint a specialist contractor on your behalf.  If you don’t have Insurance or find you do not have adequate cover, you may need to contact the UK Spill Association (UKSpill) or the International Spill Accreditation Association website
  • Try and find out where the leak is coming from and stop further oil leaking as soon as possible
  • Switch off your oil supply at the tank and, where necessary, arrange to have it emptied by a fuel supplier.  Do not try to do this yourself and do not store oil in a building, shed or vehicle
  • Call a competent Engineer/Technician to repair/replace the tank or pipework. You will be able to find details of competent technicians to undertake this work on the OFTEC (Oil Firing Technical Association) website 
  • If a leak is likely to affect a stream or pond, contact the Water Pollution Hotline on 0800 807060
  • Oil that seeps into soil can contaminate drinking water by penetrating supply pipes.  This can cause an odour and unpleasant taste and can effect health.  If it is a public water supply contact Northern Ireland Water on 03457 44 00 88 or a private water supply call Environmental Health at Derry City and Strabane District Council on 028 71253253 health&  or the Drinking Water Inspectorate on (028) 90569282
  • Prevent the spill from entering drains by using earth, sand or commercial absorbents to block its flow and absorb the oil
  • Keep your home ventilated by opening windows and doors
  • Keep children and pets away from spills and avoid oil getting on your skin and clothing
  • Wash your hands and don’t smoke, eat or drink when or after you are in contact with the oil
  • If there is a smell of oil in your home call Health & Community Wellbeing at Derry City and Strabane District Council on 028 71253253 health&  You should note, however, that the Council cannot carry out the clean-up and you may need to employ a Specialist Company/Consultant.
  • Keep a record of any actions you have taken

Prevention is better than cure – How to prevent an oil spill

  • Ensure the condition of your boiler, tank and entire system is checked regularly by a competent engineer/technician. If your tank is metal, ensure it is painted regularly to avoid the metal corroding.
  • Look out for staining and oil smells.
  • If possible, supervise any deliveries of oil. Make sure you do not order more oil than you can fit in your tank.
  • Monitor and become familiar with your normal usage rate of oil. If consumption appears to go up, check for leaks immediately. There have been instances where people have re-filled a leaking oil tank without checking when their last delivery was, doubling the amount of oil lost into the ground without realising. The more oil lost, the more difficult and expensive the clean up.
  • Keep fill points on the tank clear of obstructions and ensure they are tamper proof.
  • If your tank is not bunded, consider building one. A bund is a collection trough which sits under the oil tank. In the event of the tank leaking, all the oil will be retained within this leak proof trough. The bund should have the capacity to hold at least 10% more than the capacity of the tank (as it can collect rainwater over time). Bunds can be built of brick, concrete or other watertight material. From time to time you may need to empty rainwater out of it, but do not be tempted to fit a drain hole, unless fitted with a tap which can be securely closed. Some designs of tank incorporate a bund. The tank has a second skin which acts a safety net if the tank leaks. 
  • If you replace your Oil Fired Central Heating System ensure that you obtain the necessary Building Control Approval/Completion. Further advice can be obtained from Building Control at Derry City and Strabane District Council on (028) 71253253

It is important to review your Home Insurance Policy or contact your Insurance Company to ensure your Policy covers domestic fuel spills.  It is also important to check if your Policy covers damage to your property and your neighbour’s (third parties) property and the necessary clean up costs including environmental damage and pollution of ground and surface water and private water supplies.

Contact Details

For further information please contact the Health, Housing and Public Conveniences Team

T:  028 71253253 

E: health&