After Con-Ed Accident, Final Extent of Oil Leaked Into Bronx River Is Unknown

Almost 2,000 gallons of transformer oil, which recently leaked from an underground Con-Edison cable pipe in Yonkers, may have ended up in the Bronx River. 

The oil leak was discovered a week ago, and originated at the intersection of Mile Square Road and Lincoln Avenue in Yonkers, roughly three blocks west of the Bronx River. According to the Bronx River Alliance, the contents of the ruptured cable pipe flowed into the river through an outfall pipe.

Con-Edison says it is still quantifying how much oil was actually released into the river.

It is also unclear whether the cable pipe contained other contaminants in addition to oil. News reports have referred to both oil and dielectric fluid. Con-Edison told NYER that the pipe only contained mineral oil, a type of dielectric fluid, which served as a coolant for its underground cable network.

The 23-mile Bronx River, which originates in Westchester, is the only river within New York City that is both freshwater and tidal. The river’s ongoing recovery from decades of industrial contamination, particularly in the South Bronx, is the subject of a really interesting short video produced by the American Museum of Natural History.

On Sunday, at least one oil sheen was clearly visible in the North Bronx section of the river, several miles downstream from Yonkers. I was not even aware the spill had taken place but saw the sheen while walking alongside the river in Bronx River Park. By coincidence, a New York City Parks Department employee called out to me soon after that, asking if I had seen any oil in the river.

Unanswered Questions

The amount of oil released into the river has not yet been confirmed, Con-Ed spokesman Sidney Alvarez told NYER. The size of the leak from the pipe itself was approximately 1900 gallons, he said. The Bronx River Alliance asserts a higher number, 2,200 gallons.

The oil “does not pose a risk to the river” and does not contain PCB’s, Alvarez stated.

I contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to confirm this information, and am awaiting their response. The City’s Parks Department, which manages Bronx River Park, is referring all media questions about the spill to the state DEC.

bronx river oil
Oil sheen in the Bronx River, visible at roughly 210th Street this past Sunday. Photo: Sarah Crean

Con-Edison was also unable to confirm to what extent the spill has been cleaned up. But booming locations in most areas of the Bronx River have been removed based on approval from the DEC, Alvarez said.

Booms are temporary floating barriers which contain a spill and help to concentrate oil in thicker surface layers so that skimmers or other collection methods can be used more effectively.

Booming and skimming locations are still being maintained at the oil’s entry point into the Bronx River in Yonkers, and at the southern-most point of the New York Botanical Garden at East Fordham Road, Alvarez noted.

A recovering river- with many challenges ahead

One thing that struck me as I walked along the river this past Sunday was how low it is. I walked much of the length of Bronx River Park, between 210th and 231st streets.

Because the North Bronx section of the river is so low -as many freshwater rivers in the Northeast currently are- it was easier to see the trash and debris that have been dumped there over the years.

bronx river- low
Section of the Bronx River -in the North Bronx- showing low water levels this past Sunday. Photo: Sarah Crean

While the Bronx River no longer experiences large-scale industrial dumping as it did in the past, there are other pollution sources. Four combined sewer “outflow points” release untreated sewage and stormwater directly into the river when rainfall overwhelms area sewer mains and sewage treatment plants.

New York State has required the City to develop a long-term plan to reduce CSO releases into the Bronx River and other local waterbodies. The City reported last year that it had invested $26 million in order to reduce CSO releases into the Bronx River from over a billion gallons a year to a still daunting 592 million gallons annually.

Community organizations, local elected officials, scientific institutions and city agencies have collaborated on a wide variety of projects to bring the river back to good health, such as salt marsh restoration and the re-introduction of oysters.

Michael Abegg, with the New York Harbor School, and a student, Luis Negron, in background, putting oysters into a reef in the Bronx River. Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The river remains home to a remarkable array of species, from ducks and turtles to great blue herons and tree frogs.

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Great Heron at the Bronx River. Photo: American Museum of Natural History

And as the Bronx River Alliance notes, “people are returning to the Bronx River, drawn back to a place that has remained true to itself in a region where much else has changed.”

canoing bronx river
Canoeing on the Bronx River. Photo: Bronx River Alliance

Hopefully, events such as the recent accidental release of hundreds of gallons of oil into the river will not prove to be a setback for the ecological recovery that is taking place there.




Calling All Lovers of the Bronx River!

The Bronx River needs your help. Your feedback is wanted at a meeting with the City this Thursday night about how to make the Bronx River cleaner and healthier.

The City says it is investing $26 million in order to reduce the volume of untreated sewage and stormwater released into the river from over 1 billion gallons per year to 592 million gallons annually.

“River of High Bluffs”

Have you had a chance to visit the Bronx River? The Bronx River Alliance provides the following interesting description of the river and its history…

To walk along the Bronx River today is to enter a world slightly apart from the city, where the cry of the redwing blackbird is louder than the hum of cars not twenty feet away.

One of the little-known marvels of the New York City landscape, the 23-mile Bronx River winds down through southern Westchester and the Bronx to define a peaceful corridor of greenery for fishing, strolling, biking, boating and nature study amid the noise and bustle of urban life. It is the only major watercourse within the city limits that is not entirely tidal.

Credit: Bronx River Alliance

Called Aquehung or “River of High Bluffs” by the Mohegan Indians who first lived and fished along it, the river attracted European traders in the early 1600s for the sleek, fat beaver that proliferated there….The [river’s] water was considered so “pure and wholesome” that during the 1820s and 1830s the New York City Board of Aldermen debated ways to tap into it to supply the growing city with drinking water…

Raw Sewage Releases Threaten the City’s Waterways

While much progress has been made in restoring New York City’s rivers, creeks and bays, they are still threatened by various types of pollution. One ongoing source of contamination is the City’s release of untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways like the Bronx River.

Approximately 70 percent of New York’s sewers are combined. This means that household and industrial wastewater, rainwater, and street runoff -1.3 billion gallons daily- are all collected in the same sewers and conveyed together to the City’s 14 treatment plants.

During heavy rains or snow, combined sewers can fill to capacity and are then unable to carry household and storm sewage to treatment plants. The mix of excess storm water and untreated sewage must be released directly into the city’s waterways.

There are over 400 combined sewer overflow release points throughout the five boroughs. Four of them are in the Bronx River.

In total, almost 30 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater are discharged annually into New York City’s waterways. The releases cause environmental damage, and put boaters, swimmers, fishing enthusiasts and other New Yorkers into potential contact with pathogenic bacteria and other toxic substances.

A Plan for the Bronx River

in the next three years, the City must produce plans for ten separate water bodies or “sewer sheds” – areas of the city where raw sewage is released into waterways.

The State of New York must sign off on each plan, as it is responsible for enforcing federal Clean Water regulations. The plan for the Bronx River is supposed to be completed and submitted to the State by June, 2015.

Some advocates say the City is not taking the long term CSO reduction plans for each sewer shed seriously enough. They maintain that the plans submitted thus far -for Alley Creek, the Hutchinson River, Westchester Creek and Flushing Creek- do not include significant pollution reduction targets.

Add Your Voice

Learn more about what is being done to address CSO releases and give your feedback on how to make the Bronx River cleaner and healthier.

Residents will be meeting this Thursday, February 12th with the City’s Department of Environmental Protection to discuss DEP’s long term CSO control plan for the Bronx River.

The meeting will take place at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education,

928 Simpson Street, 6th Floor, the Bronx, from 6pm to 8pm.

To RSVP please email or call 718-595-4148.

Read more about DEP’s Combined Sewer Overflow program for the city’s waterways.