An oil leak of more than 100,000 gallons from an underground pipeline in Halecky-IMTT Park discovered on Feb. 22 launched a mobilization of various emergency response units and a more than weeklong cleanup.
Responders from the state Department of Environmental Protection used vacuums to recover the first of a few thousand gallons of what was identified as home heating oil from the park at its eastern 27th Street point.
International-Matex Tank Terminals Inc., a bulk liquid storage facility for petroleum, chemical, and other products, owns the pipeline, which is no longer in use.
State officials said that the oil had not seeped into any waterways and was not a threat to the public.
IMTT was taking care of the rest of the cleanup, and said it would reimburse the state for money related to the original DEP response, according to a DEP spokesman.
“Are we afraid to be here now? Yes, absolutely. We don’t know what this oil’s going to do.” – Judy Burns
The initial call brought the department’s Bureau of Emergency Response, as well as contract responder Ken’s Marine, which ascertained that the leaking pipeline was owned by IMTT.
“They contacted IMTT,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. “They brought in their own contractor and consultant. This started a multi-party, multi-phase response.”
First the leak source was identified and an area around the leak was excavated so that the oil could be removed. Then a pit was dug, and the walls surrounding it were reinforced. Then the process of vacuuming the oil began.
Because workers knew a torrential rain had been forecast for midweek, workers tried to stop oil from going into the storm drain which leads into the sewer system and out to Upper New York Bay, according to Hajna.
“They tried to intercept any water,” he said. “They put booms up at discharge points to get anything that might get through. And they were pumping around the clock while they were patching up the leak in the pipeline.”
Booms are flotation devices that are placed near oil spills to impede their advancement.
By Friday, Feb. 26, much of the oil leak collection had been done.
“They’re now in the mop-up phase,” Hajna said. “In the total excavation area as of today, there were 128,000 gallons of primarily oil, with some water. Rain hampered putting the plug on the pipeline.”
About 62,000 gallons of mostly water were retrieved from the sewer system.
“We did observe a little bit of sheen in one of the outfall areas,” Hajna said. “It was light and minimal. It was contained in booms; there was no impact to ecologically sensitive wildlife or waterways. There was no public health impact.”
On Friday, those on site were in the process of transitioning to a licensed site remediation professional, Cornerstone Environmental, a company that works for IMTT, which would be working on the longer-term remediation.
Hajna said those professionals would “delineate the extent of soil contamination.”
“They’ll do excavation and back filling with clean soil,” he said. “They’ll evaluate ground water in the area to see the extent of impacts.”
The emergency phase was wrapping up, Hajna said, with booms being removed because of no more significant discharge into the sewerage system. More oil-soaked soil was being removed from the pit.
“They’re doing a final assessment,” Hajna said.
He explained that the pipeline that leaked was an inactive one, on which the company was doing upgrades. IMTT had plugged off a section of it, but it still had oil product in it.
“For the most part, they captured a lot of product through vacuum operations,” Hajna said. “Clearly there’s product in the soil that still needs to be addressed.”
IMTT did not return a call seeking information on the leak or the cleanup.
Hajna said that it did not appear that oil had gotten to any of the nearby homes.
“To my knowledge nobody has complained about any impact to their property, and I’m not aware of any,” he said.
But a couple of homeowners between Avenue F and the park were still concerned.
“I’m worried about it going into our water system,” said Mrs. Leeming of 93 East 27th St. “Anything can happen. That’s a toxic chemical.”
“Are we afraid to be here now? Yes, absolutely,” said Judy Burns of 99 East 27th St. “We don’t know what this oil’s going to do.”
Mark Stroff, further up the block at 232 Ave. F, said his runs along a trail in the park have been curtailed for now.
“Oh my God, what a mess,” he said. “Not to mention I don’t like all that toxic stuff lying there.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.