More homeowners are protecting themselves against potential financial ruin from a heating oil spill, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP's annual report to a legislative committee shows the number of homeowners who purchased insurance coverage rose by 14% in 2019. That was a stark contrast to the previous seven years, when the figures had steadily declined.
The DEP attributed the jump to the NBC10 Boston Investigators putting a spotlight on the issue.
"This substantial increase is likely the result of a three-part series on local television and related print news articles that ran in 2019, which highlighted the financial and emotional impact on uninsured Massachusetts homeowners who experienced heating oil spills," the report said.
State records show there are an average of roughly 120 heating oil spills per year across Massachusetts.
There is a relatively inexpensive insurance rider available to homeowners that covers the damage and cleanup costs. However, property owners have to know to ask about it.
And most policyholders remain in the dark. Even with the increase in 2019, the majority of the estimated 650,000 homes with heating oil remain unprotected because standard insurance policies contain a pollution exclusion, according to the DEP.
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As the NBC10 Boston Investigators illustrated, heating oil spill cleanup costs can quickly soar above six figures.
Katherine Hamelin, a Sutton widow, endured that nightmare scenario when she discovered a heating oil spill inside her home.
And Donna Baron, a Blackstone mother of three kids, discovered she was on the hook for the cleanup costs of an oil spill that happened years before she bought the home.
The DEP ultimately stepped in to handle the required remediation, admitting it had failed to follow up on the condition of the property for years before Barron purchased it.
Attorney Susan Crane has represented more than 100 homeowners who have experienced heating oil spills. She has watched clients who weren't covered by their insurance wipe out their life savings from the expensive cleanup process.
"It can result in bankruptcy. It can result in the loss of all the equity in their home. I can't quite understate it," Crane told the NBC10 Investigators. "I think you're getting the word out with these stories. It's really great."
State lawmakers are considering legislation that would mandate coverage for all homeowner's insurance policies. The proposed bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Ways & Means.