Tuesday, May 09, 2017 10:25PM
FARRAGUT, Brooklyn (WABC) -- An oil spill in the East River is still being cleaned up and contained on Tuesday after an accident at a Con Edison substation over the weekend.
Officials say that dielectric fluid spilled into the river on Sunday afternoon after a transformer failed at a Con Edison substation in the Farragut section of Brooklyn.
The transformer that failed contained approximately 37,000 gallons of the fluid, which is used to cool the transformer cables.
Con Edison is still working on figuring out exactly how much oil spilled into the river.
Vessels that operate in the area will be subjected to speed restrictions by the Coast Guard.
According to officials, the oil is non-toxic to the environment.
East River Oil Spill: 'Catastrophic' Con Ed Fail Spews 37,000 Gallons Of Transformer Oil
The Coast Guard is urging people to avoid coming into contact with East River waters from Midtown and Greenpoint on down to Red Hook.
VINEGAR HILL, BROOKLYN — Wondering what to make of that oily sheen coating an increasingly large surface of the East River?
According to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard, a "catastrophic transformer failure" at the Con Edison station along the Brooklyn coastline two full days ago (!), around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, caused 37,000 gallons of "dielectric fluid," or transformer oil, to spew from the transformer and begin seeping into the ground and the East River.
And by Monday night, the hazardous fluid had spread so far out into the river that the Coast Guard declared a "safety zone" stretching from the waters off Greenpoint (Dupont Street) and Midtown (East 25th Street) down to Red Hook (south end of the Buttermilk Channel).
The safety zone was still in full effect late Tuesday afternoon.
"Recreational and human powered vessels may not enter, remain in, or transit through the Safety Zone during the enforcement period unless authorized by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port or designated Coast Guard personnel," a spokeswoman said. "Mariners are requested to exercise caution while in the area."
The East River Ferry was still running Tuesday, but "very, very slowly" so as to comply with a "no wake zone" in the spill area, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Allyson Conroy.
So how freaked out should we be right now? Conroy explained to Patch that while dielectric fluid is officially an oil — and is officially considered hazardous — it's not quite as toxic as the kinds of oils we usually associate with oil spills, such as diesel fuel and petroleum.
However: "If humans do get in contact with it," Conroy said, they should immediately "wash their skin and avoid touching their eyes."
A handful of public and private crews were carrying out an emergency cleanup effort Tuesday afternoon.
"Con Ed, who is the lead agency, has absorbent materials on the ground to try to soak up as much as the fluid as possible from going into the river," Conroy said. "They're also skimming the water."
Asked why it took so long for New Yorkers to be notified that 37,000 gallons of nastiness were slowly seeping into the city's central waterway, Conroy said the Coast Guard had followed its usual procedure of sending a radio broadcast to boaters every four hours.
She added that she didn't want to "pass the buck or point the finger," but that "normally the lead agency" — in this case, Con Ed — "is the one responsible for sending out those notifications."
Con Ed did not respond to Patch's request for comment.
Company spokesman Allan Drury did send a statement to Gothamist, but it didn't do much to explain Con Ed's lag in notifying the public:
“Con Edison is working to contain and clean up transformer insulating oil that was released from one of our substations in Brooklyn near the East River," he said. "A transformer containing approximately 37,000 gallons of dielectric fluid, mineral oil used for cooling electrical equipment, failed on Sunday May 7th at 12:23 p.m, causing the oil to be released from its main tank. Some oil entered the East River and Con Edison responded immediately, placing boom, absorbents and skimmers in the river. Our own employees and environmental contractors are working on the cleanup, and we are working cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation."
UPDATE, 7:45 p.m.: Con Ed spokesman Philip O'Brien just sent us the following email. (Again not explaining why we all just heard about the spill today in an NYC Ferry tweet.)
"Please check your info on oil leak off Brooklyn. No one is saying 37,000 gallons spilled into river. Unclear how much at this early stage of clean up. The transformer that failed on Sunday contained 37,000 gallons of mineral oil, a good deal of which is still in it and surrounding floor space. Thank you."
'Catastrophic' Con Ed Transformer Failure Causes Enormous East River Oil Slick
"We don't know how long the safety zone will be in effect," Conroy said. While in effect, recreational and human-powered vessels (kayakers, paddle-boarders, etc.) are prohibited from the area. And NYC Ferry has announced that customers should expect delays in East River service for the remainder of today due to the incident; you can follow them on Twitter for updates.
“Con Edison is working to contain and clean up transformer insulating oil that was released from one of our substations in Brooklyn near the East River," Drury said. "A transformer containing approximately 37,000 gallons of dielectric fluid, mineral oil used for cooling electrical equipment, failed on Sunday May 7th at 12:23 p.m, causing the oil to be released from its main tank. Some oil entered the East River and Con Edison responded immediately, placing boom, absorbents and skimmers in the river. Our own employees and environmental contractors are working on the cleanup, and we are working cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation."
Con Edison is still trying to verify how much of the substance was released into the river, and what caused the failure. Witnesses said they saw an oil slick on the East River from Hunter's Point South Park in Long Island City around 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
We'll update as more information becomes available.
UPDATE 3:52 p.m.: Con Edison released an official statement this afternoon:
Con Edison is working to contain and clean up transformer insulating oil that was released from one of our substations in Brooklyn near the East River. A transformer containing approximately 37,000 gallons of insulating oil used with electrical equipment, failed on Sunday May 7 at 12:23 p.m., causing much of the oil to be released within the station property in addition to the East River. The equipment failure also caused a system voltage dip that impacted the MTA’s signaling systems on Sunday, resulting in a disruption to some train service. Con Edison responded immediately, placing boom, absorbents and skimmers in the river. Our own employees and environmental contractors are working on the cleanup, and we are working cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies. We continue to assess the volume of oil that migrated to the East River, and how much oil remains in the ground on our property. The Coast Guard has issued reduced speed restrictions for commercial vessels operating in the area, and banning recreational vessels, to assist the cleanup process. We are taking all actions to contain and clean up the oil as safely and as quickly as possible.