Huge Dumbo Oil Spill Leaves Heavy Smell of Petroleum in Air (Updated)

Photo by Seán Devlin


The East River was never known as the cleanest body of water in the world, but an oil spill at the ConEd plant at the base of John Street in Dumbo — right next to Brooklyn Bridge Park and some of the most expensive real estate in Brooklyn — is alarming.

The area smelled heavily of oil (a bit like a mixture of gasoline and motor oil) when we checked out the scene Tuesday afternoon. There was an oily sheen on the banks of the river near the Jay Street entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park, causing a multicolored discoloration on the sand.

On Sunday, the failure of a transformer at the ConEd substation containing 37,000 gallons of oil released an unknown amount into the East River Sunday. ConEd immediately began cleanup of the substance, known as dielectric fluid, a type of mineral oil, according to the Coast Guard and Con Ed, Gothamist reported.

brooklyn news oil slick

Photo by Seán Devlin

A Twitter user tweeted images of the oil drifting in the river over the past two days. Newly opened condos and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum Annex at 1 John Street overlook the waterfront where the fluid has been seen, just down the block from the Con Ed power plant.

The spill caused delays for the NYC Ferry, the service tweeted Tuesday. Recreational use of the water in the area is prohibited for the moment, Gothamist said.

In April, heating oil company Bayside Fuel Oil Depot Corp. spilled 27,000 gallons of oil into the waters off Gravesend, in Gravesend Bay.

The extent of the spill and how long it will take to clean up are as yet unknown. Concentrated oil vapors, such as indoors, can be hazardous and even fatal to humans. Spills can poison fish and harm water birds by coating their feathers and altering their body temperature.

brooklyn news oil slick brooklyn bridge park

Brooklyn Bridge Park and developments along the waterfront, with the Con Ed substation in the background. Photo by Susan De Vries

It’s not the first issue at the substation, which caught fire in 2011 and 2012 (twice!). Later in 2012, it flooded during Hurricane Sandy, causing a power outage.

However, despite the smell, the spill didn’t appear to keep anyone away from Brooklyn Bridge Park (which sits next to the substation), with patrons eating lunch and walking about as usual Tuesday afternoon.

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