East River oil spill: Thousands of gallons seeped into water, Coast Guard estimates

More than 5,000 gallons of oil from a Con Edison transformer in Brooklyn could have seeped into the East River, the Coast Guard said Wednesday, giving the first estimate of how much of Sunday’s spill ended up in the water.

About 31,000 gallons of dielectric fluid spilled from a ruptured transformer at 89 John St. on Sunday, May 7, the Coast Guard said. The transformer holds 37,000 gallons.

Most of the liquid appears to have seeped into the soil at the substation.

“A total of 6,300 gallons have been recovered from the containment area and 520 gallons have been recovered from the water. The Coast Guard estimates approximately 10 times of what has been recovered from the water may have seeped into the waterway,” a statement said.

Con Ed started cleaning up the oil on Sunday, mostly by removing contaminated soil from the substation, and the work is expected to continue through the rest of the week, O’Brien said, though he didn’t go into specifics of the process.

The U.S. Coast Guard is handling the cleanup of the river, spokesman Steve Strohmaier said. Boom and skimming vessels are being used to prevent the oil from spreading, the Coast Guard said.

As the cleanup continues, officials at the Brooklyn Bridge Park have warned people to stay out of the water and a safety zone remains in place, barring all recreational vessels on the Brooklyn side of the river, between the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges.

“The safety zone was implemented as a precaution to protect waterway users from potential health hazards directly related to the spill, and to aid in the response of the spill. Fishing should be avoided where sheens are present,” the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement.

“No Swimming or Wading” signs were posted at the Pier 4 Beach, Pebble Beach and under the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. said.

Environmental engineer and Columbia University professor Kartik Chandran said the oil appears to be insoluble, which makes it possible to separate it from the water and take it out, but he added that more information about the oil needs to be known.

“Testing has to be done. We need to know … whether it is toxic or not and the chemical composition,” Chandran said.

On Wednesday morning, Dina Elkam, the communications director of Solar One, which manages Stuyvesant Cove Park, said the oil in the river could be seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park, between 18th and 23rd streets along the east side of Manhattan.

The spill is expected to be damaging to aquatic life in the river, Chandran said. The oil covers the water in a film, blocking oxygen from getting to organisms under it, he explained.

Elkam added that the oil could potentially poison birds.

“At this time of year, a lot of birds are nesting,” she said. “If the mineral oil is washing up into nests, that could probably be very bad for the eggs.”

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