Oil Spill Causes Headaches on West 56th Street

By Mathew Katz on October 19, 2012 5:40pm 

HELL'S KITCHEN — Tenants are fuming after an oil spill released thousands of gallons of heating oil in the basement of a West 56th Street building — and days of cleanup have brought loud, idling trucks with smelly fumes.

The spill happened on Monday, when a crew was pumping No. 4 heating oil into the rear sub-basement of the Sheffield Building at 322 W. 57th St.

The building was in the process of converting its heating system from No. 6 heating oil to No. 4, which is cleaner, but its system was not ready to accept the huge load of fuel, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is overseeing the cleanup.

"It wasn't really built to catch as much as was coming in, so a bunch got into the basement floor itself," said the spokesman, Rodney Rivera.

Rivera said "a few thousand gallons" had been spilled and the cleanup was ongoing, but there was no immediate danger to neighbors.

Rivera added that some of the oil overflowed into the sewer system, but that it would be cleaned out by the city's water purification system.

"With the exception of inconvenience and a dirty sub-basement, there's nothing that's going to be of any concern to any residents in the immediate area," he said.

But neighbors said the cleanup has been nothing but a mess, with loud trucks outside their windows and crews working 24 hours a day.

"Trucks have been here nonstop since Monday," said Molly Wulkowicz, who lives across the street from the spill, on West 56th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

"That means hours of nonstop fumes and both the exhaust of the trucks and the fuel."

Wulkowicz said her 6-year-old daughter, who has asthma, had been suffering from a hacking cough since the spill.

"There's a filter in her room, but there's only so much we can do," she said.

According to the DEC, three companies were involved in the spill and its cleanup: Leardon Boiler Works was converting the fuel tanks, Rite Way Tank Maintenance was cleaning them, and the oil itself came from the Hess Corporation.

Rite Way has since been involved in the spill cleanup. This is not the first time residents on West 56th Street has had trouble with the company. Over the summer, the company often had trucks idling for eight hours or more on the block, residents said.

The problem got so bad that Councilwoman Gale Brewer's office wrote to the city's Department of Environmental Protection in hope that it would investigate.

"The fumes and smokes have been terrible since then," since Wulkowicz.

"The first day it came in August, there were plumes of smoke and the entire block emptied out.

A spokesman for the Sheffield's management said that its staff were cooperating with the DEC and DEP to the best of their ability.

According to a spokesman, the DEP issued a cleanup order to the Sheffield's management and issued a violation because oil leaked into the sewer.

As of Friday, the DEC was still investigating the spill, but did not assign blame to any of the companies involved.

"There was no real fault, it was just a couple of bad mishaps, but just because it was such an egregious amount spilled, we're still looking into it," Rivera said.

Brewer's office said they are looking into the spill, and that it was concerned that so few neighbors had been informed by city agencies and the Sheffield itself.

Rivera said the cleanup should be done by Monday, and for the time being the constant noise and fumes is just an unpleasant reality of a much-needed cleanup.

"You want to get it done as quickly as possible so there's nothing lingering around," he said.

"The longer you let it sit there, the more potential is there for things to get worse."

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