Hell's Kitchen Oil Spill Worse Than Thought as Noisy Cleanup Persists

By Mathew Katz on October 25, 2012 10:07am 

HELL'S KITCHEN — An oil spill in the basement of a Hell's Kitchen skyscraper is worse than originally thought — meaning noisy cleanup on the block will continue for an undetermined amount of time, officials said.

A few thousand gallons of No. 4 heating oil overflowed and spilled in the basement of The Sheffield at 322 W. 57th St. on Oct. 15. Since then, a cleanup crew that has created noise and nasty smells has drawn the ire of the building's rear neighbors on West 56th Street.

Officials had originally said the cleanup would finish up by the start of this week.

According to a spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, which is supervising the cleanup, the oil has seeped into the concrete of the building and there's also a danger that it's leaked into the surrounding groundwater.

The spokesman, Rodney Rivera, could not say when the cleanup would end. But he did say that the effects of the ongoing efforts would be reduced over the coming days, after Councilwoman Gale Brewer's office contacted the DEC with residents' concern about noise and fumes from the cleanup trucks.

"The initial cleanup is still going to take some time," he acknowledged. "There will be changes to the process as far as the inconvenience to the community."

However, Rivera did not elaborate on what specific changes would be made.

The agency will also soon be testing the surrounding area for contaminated groundwater, which Rivera said could pose environmental dangers. He also did not elaborate on what those dangers could be.

On Tuesday, a cleanup truck from AARCO Environmental Services was on site, spewing thick smoke into the air that could be smelled up and down the street.

Molly Wulkowicz, who lives on the block, said she's been dealing with fumes and loud trucks for more than a week, claiming she has gotten little response from the agencies administering the cleanup.

Many on the block, she said, had not been informed about the spill and subsequent cleanup.

"Where is the concern for public health? We’ve had weeks and months now of bad air quality without any response," Wulkowicz said.

"Only after 10 days of round-the-clock stuff does anybody think to mitigate it? Where’s the consideration for people living here?"

One tenant of the Sheffield, who asked not to be named, said that she had noticed the fumes since last week, but was only told about the spill a few days ago.

"It's putrid when I walk out the door," the tenant said. "I have to wonder if it's doing something to my lungs."

The Sheffield could not immediately be reached for comment.

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