Oil: Sometimes you just can't give it away

December 23, 1990|By Jean Packard | Jean Packard,Jean Packard is an assistant chief librarian for The Sun.

Our 45-year-old furnace started to complain just like everyone else did when oil prices shot up. It died with three-quarters of a tank to spare during unseasonably warm weather. By the time our new gas furnace was scheduled to be installed, the weather was seasonably brisk, and we needed to dispose of the old oil tank and its contents.

One heating contractor offered a plan where someone he recommended would take care of the tank and oil for a fee. Another contractor had offered to pump out the oil to a next-door neighbor (no farther) or to a receptacle to be left in our back alley to be disposed of by us in some way, such as hiring yet another contractor. By law, this oil was considered contaminated once it had been pumped into our tank, and it could not be resold as home heating oil.

These propositions sounded uncertain and/or expensive to me, so I attempted to donate the oil to a charity that would find it a home in need. If it was good enough to use in my furnace, it certainly wouldn't contaminate someone else's.

My first call was to St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center. I explained that I was getting a new furnace and wanted to donate home heating oil to someone who could use it. They referred me to their used furniture outlet, where I was told they would try to find out what to do with my offer and they would get back to me. They haven't yet.

Doubtful of getting an answer there, I next tried the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, which referred me to the Urban Services Energy Assistance Office. The answer there was that the woman on the phone would check with her supervisor and call back.

I asked around our office, and several people suggested Catholic Charities and the Baltimore Fuel Fund. At the Catholic Charities oil office, the woman said she understood my drift and put me on hold for several minutes. When she got back to me, she hardly had time to talk because, she explained, the phones )) were ringing off the hook with people requesting help getting xTC heating oil. She had no idea how to go about donating oil but she would see what she could find out and get back to me. Shortly, a gentleman from the office called back to let me know that possibly they could accept heating oil if I could find and pay someone to pump it.

Out of curiosity, I called a couple of commercial waste oil dealers and was quoted prices of $48 per hour and $50 for the job of pumping out about 75 gallons of oil.

Hoping to avoid paying to make a donation, I made a few more calls.

At the Baltimore Fuel Fund I was told that they used to accept donations of oil in cases like mine, but that now there were "environmental regulations" that prohibited them from pumping out oil and giving it to someone else for heat. It was a chilling moment for me.

The woman sympathized and named a company that could pump it out. Their number was no longer in operation, and the company was not listed in the yellow pages.

My next call was to First Call for Help, a volunteer information agency. A sympathetic volunteer there suggested the Baltimore Fuel Fund and two oil buyers' cooperatives, COPE and Buyers Up. I left a message on Buyers Up's answering machine. I got another referral to the Baltimore Fuel Fund from COPE. The Baltimore Fuel Fund was the suggestion also of the Central Maryland Fuel Fund, which answered my taped message promptly.

As I write, I am hoping my heating contractor's oil pickup works out. I have now been told that the oil is passed along to those in need, which was my concern in the first place.

I'm glad one individual is able to achieve what many agencies cannot. I know the heating contractors installing new gas furnaces are leaving many oil tanks to be emptied, and I believe a lot of people could use that oil in place of hazardous alternatives such as stoves, ovens and space heaters. The distributors of surplus food eventually got organized in spite of regulations. Perhaps the same can be done for second-hand home heating oil.

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