Oil Spill: I can smell oil in my house

Small spills can cause big disruptions
Small spills can cause big disruptions

It is often difficult to know what to do about it and when to act, we come across a lot of homes where the residents have noticed oily smells for months, initially they’ve just assumed that the smells are ok as they have an oil fired boiler in the house, or an Aga for example.  Knowing when the smells are ‘significant’ is difficult at the best of times, but when you live in it you’ll find that your body becomes used to the odours so they become less noticeable to anyone living there.  The usual story we get is that visitors to the house are the ones who comment on the odours and that validates that there is a problem.

Oily smells are usually linked to oil fired systems such as boilers and/or cookers, if you don’t have one but your neighbour does then their system can be affecting your property. There are very few checks in place to monitor oil tanks and the oil feed-lines which carry the oil to the appliance, and these are the main causes of leaks on domestic properties.  Leaks often don’t happen quickly, sometimes it can be a small leak which builds up over the months to be significant volume of oil in the ground / in your property.

The first thing you can do for free is to have a look yourself, look around your tank, and the appliances you have and see if any dark staining is obvious or if any vegetation has died nearby, e.g. brown patches in your lawn, these can indicate that a leak has occurred.

Secondly, if you’re prudent and you keep fuel delivery receipts then check to see if you’re ‘using’ more oil than usual, this can indicate that a leak is occurring (or just that it’s a very cold month).

Thirdly, and now you may want to notify your insurance (which is always a good idea when something isn’t right with your house, even if you’re not covered), ask your plumber / heating engineer to check your system from top to bottom.  They have some clever ways of testing tanks and feed-lines to find leaks.

If you find a leak then this post might be helpful in the short term – 3 ways to stop an oil leak

If you’ve still not found the problem then oil spill specialists are the next stop, companies like ours carry out oil spill inspections regularly to find the source of vapours or any other issues associated with leaks.  See here for our services.

As always if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us, we like to talk, 0800 0209 307 or drop us an e-mail on info@soilutions.co.uk

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Rhododendrons and poisonous Honey?

A Bee feeding on a rhododendron bloom @ Steve Slater
A Bee feeding on a rhododendron bloom @ Steve Slater

An odd little piece of information came up the other day which happens to coincide with a few of the things we’re currently dealing with in the office.  Rhododendron Ponticum contains poisons which discourage grazing animals from feeding on them, this is fairly widely known and just another reason why Rhododendrons have to be controlled and another thing which makes the plant difficult to control.

This doesn’t usually affect humans because humans would never try to eat Rhododendrons but humans do eat honey.  The toxins are present in the nectar of the plant and Bees which draw a significant proportion of the nectar they collect from Rhododendrons can manage to produce poisonous honey.

The toxins in question are called Grayanotoxins and consumption of sufficient quantities can result in cardiac problems and even death while lower doses will result in excessive salivation, perspiration, vomiting, dizziness, weakness and paresthesia (pins and needles) in the extremities and around the mouth, low blood pressure and sinus bradycardia (reduced heart rate).  Looking on the bright side the condition is rarely fatal and generally abates within a day without medical intervention, but it’s still not going to be a fun experience.

It is very rare for toxic levels to make it into honey particularly in commercially produced honey however there are historical records of it being deliberately produced in Turkey going back to 400 BC when hives or sections of comb (depending on which version you believe) loaded with toxic honey were left in convenient locations to be discovered by hungry soldiers and poison invading armies.  Latterly in the 1700s this Mad Honey was sold into Europe where it was added to alcoholic drinks to give them some added kick.

John has been learning about bee keeping recently for an upcoming project and we’ve been removing a lot of rhododendrons which is how we stumbled onto this fact.  So now we, and you, know not to site bee hives in the middle of large areas of Rhododendron Ponticum.  Okay so this is probably not the most readily applicable advice for everyday life but interesting nonetheless.

TBT pollution from anti-fouling

This is what grows below the waterline on untreated ships @ Beth Oliver
This is what grows below the waterline on untreated ships @ Beth Oliver

We’ve recently been looking at ways to deal with TBT pollution and although it used to be a big environmental concern it’s an issue which doesn’t seem to be getting much coverage these days.  Tributyltin (TBT) is the active ingredient in a wide range of fungicides in preservatives for wood, textiles, paper, leather, plastics and packaging it is also used as a highly effective bio-cide in anti-fouling coatings for the hulls of ships and other marine infrastructure such as buoys.  Fouling is the term for unwanted plants or animals which grow on the hulls of boats.  TBT is highly toxic to a great deal of marine life including microalgae, molluscs and crustaceans, fish and some invertebrates.  It is encountered in higher concentrations in marine sediments in areas with lots of boats such as marinas and harbours and tends to affect bottom dwelling and filter feeding creatures but has been shown to bio-accumulate in other fish and even mammals.

In terms of environmental impact, TBT from anti-fouling coatings has been linked to high mortality of oyster larvae and abnormalities off the west coast of France in the 1970’s and the decline of the Dog Whelk in south west England in the 1980’s.  Malformations have been reported in a number of other species and immunological impacts have been noted in some fish.

The exact mode of action of the coatings varies a wee bit depending upon the product used but essentially there needs to be some degree of leaching of the bio-cide from the paint into the surrounding water to make it available to the life forms which would otherwise adhere to and grow on the hull of the boat. This means that TBT is released into the environment and, although initially expected not to be, it’s very persistent in the environment.  TBT and associated compounds will be broken down by exposure to light and oxygen but tend to adhere to particles in the water column and then accumulate in silt deposits where there is little light and not much oxygen.

So why use them?  Well, TBT containing coatings are by far the most effective anti-fouling chemicals ever developed and unprotected vessels may gather up to 150kg of fouling per m2 in 6 months.  To put this into context a Very Large Crude Carrier could have 40,000m2 underwater surface which translates to 6,000 tonnes of unwanted mass.  This massively increases drag and can increase the fuel consumption by 40-50%.  When scaled up to account for shipping world wide this becomes a significant amount of money and an environmentally significant volume of fuel.  Not to mention the potential environmental impacts of invasive species hitching a ride around the world on ship hulls.  Anti-fouling is simply necessary if we’re to have a global shipping industry.

As a result of the environmental concerns about TBT compounds their use was banned in anti-fouling coatings in an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) convention of 2001 which came into force in 2008.  This was the culmination of restrictions which began in the 1980’s.  It is estimated that 83% of the worlds merchant fleets (measured in tonnage) are registered to nations which have ratified this convention.  Alternative coatings are now widely available, usually based on other metal compounds.  However in nations with poor regulation the use of TBT continues and due to it’s persistence in the environment TBT contamination will remain a concern for the foreseeable future.

We’re currently developing techniques to remove TBTs from contaminated water which could greatly reduce disposal costs from their current high levels.  If you’d like to learn more about this please call us on 0131 538 8456.