A serious oil spill took place at a Con Edison location in downtown Brooklyn, New York on Sunday. Roughly 37000 gallons of transformer oil spilled and leaked onto the grounds of the property and eventually into the East River. A Coast Guard spokesperson said the incident was “a catastrophic transformer failure.” Eyewitness accounts were already getting a lot of attention on the Internet within hours of the spill. Gothamist reported that some witnesses claim the oil slick could be seen in Queens.
While the current estimate of the amount of oil spilled is 37000 gallons, the exact amount is not known yet. According to the New York City Patch, the Coast Guard declared a safety zone in the waters around that area of Brooklyn. The safety zone was declared on Monday night as the oil spill spread into the East River, and it was still in effect on Tuesday. The Coast Guard released a statement banning boats from traveling through the safety zone unless otherwise authorized by the Coast Guard. Even the ships that are authorized by the Coast Guard are advised to be cautious.
The substance spilled is commonly known as transformer oil, but is more properly known as dielectric fluid. Dielectric fluid is not as toxic as diesel or gasoline, but it is considered to be toxic to both humans and the environment. The Coast Guard recommends that anybody exposed to this fluid wash their hands immediately and avoid touching their eyes.
The potential effects of the spill on the environment are not yet known. It will likely be more severe than it could have been because the fluid leaked into the East River. The river will carry this dielectric fluid around the course of its waterway. If the spill had been contained to the grounds of the Con Ed station, the risks would not be nearly as great.
Con Ed employees and contractors are working around the clock to try to clean up the spill. They are working on cleaning up the grounds of both the station and the river. The workers are using skimmers and absorbent materials to try and remove as much of the fluid as possible. However, oil is notoriously hard to clean up. The effectiveness of the cleanup efforts remains to be seen.
Government agencies such as the Coast Guard and the New York Department of the Environment are also working to contain the spill. It should be noted that the quick response by both Con Ed and the government means there is a good chance the spill will be contained.