Skip to main content

Gloucester County Man Admits Causing Oil Spill in Lake After Using Vacuum Truck to Empty Pool into Storm Drain

By kcora on
Washington Township (Gloucester) New Jersey

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Gloucester County man pleaded guilty yesterday to criminal charges for recklessly causing an oil spill last year in Spring Lake and Mantua Creek in Washington Township by using a vacuum tank truck containing an industrial solvent to pump the water from his swimming pool and discharge it into a storm drain. The truck was used to transport a petroleum distillate called “cutting oil,” but the man said he believed it was empty. John Caldwell, 48, of Washington Township, pleaded guilty today before Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson in Gloucester County to an accusation charging him with violating the Water Pollution Control Act and causing or risking widespread injury or damage, both third-degree crimes. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years of probation, conditioned upon him performing 150 hours of community service, paying a $5,000 fine, and bearing joint and several liability for restitution of $193,894, consisting of cleanup costs and $2,385 in overtime costs for the Washington Township Fire Department. Sentencing for Caldwell is scheduled for June 26. The DEP oversaw cleanup of the spill by a private contractor. Approximately 3,000 gallons of oil were recovered from the lake and the creek. In pleading guilty, Caldwell admitted that on June 29, 2014, he recklessly used the vacuum truck to drain the water from his swimming pool and discharge it into a storm drain in front of his house on Uranus Road. In the process, he discharged the cutting oil into the storm drain, which drains to Mantua Creek and Spring Lake. The storm drain had a warning sign: “No Dumping - Drains to Waterway.” The vacuum truck, which has a 3,600 gallon tank, belongs to Caldwell’s former employer, EISCO. At the time, Caldwell was a truck operator for EISCO who worked at an oil refinery in Philadelphia. EISCO, which has a fleet of vacuum trucks, was contracted to transport cutting oil in connection with tank cleaning operations at the refinery. Caldwell told investigators that when he borrowed the truck from his employer, he believed it was empty. Caldwell was fired from his job after the incident. The spill was reported later the same day, June 29, by homeowners who observed an oily substance in Mantua Creek and smelled a strong odor of diesel fuel around the creek and Spring Lake, which is near the intersection of Pittman Downer and Fish Pond roads. Investigators traced the spill to the storm drain in front of Caldwell’s house, where oil staining was observed on the drain and the same diesel fuel odor was noticed. Witnesses were interviewed who had seen the vacuum truck at Caldwell’s house. They had seen a hose going from the vacuum truck to the swimming pool behind the house, and later, a hose from the truck to the storm drain. Investigators spoke to Caldwell, who admitted that he used the vacuum truck to pump out his swimming pool.