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Cleanup Crew Dumped Oil Into Sewer After Spill, City Says

By Mathew Katz | March 7, 2013 7:04am

HELL'S KITCHEN — A company brought in to clean up a massive heating oil spill on West 56th Street was caught dumping the sludge into city sewers, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The illegal dumping was discovered after a truck loading oil into the luxury Sheffield Building accidentally spilled 8,000 gallons into the basement in October.

The building managers brought in Brooklyn-based contractor Riteway to clean up the mess.

According to a letter from DEP Deputy Commissioner Kevin McBride to City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and obtained by DNAinfo.com New York, Riteway was quickly taken off the job after they were found dumping the oil.

"Building management stopped their work after they pumped an oil/water mix from the sump into the city sewer," the letter stated.

"DEP Industrial Waste was previously on site ...and had issued violations for this action."

The building fired Riteway and brought in two firms, Langan and Triumvirate, to oversee the continuing clean-up. Roughly 4,800 gallons of fuel has been collected to date.

A spokesman from Brewer's office said it had not been notified about the October incident until the Feb. 26 letter.

Edward Timbers, a spokesman for the DEP, said that similar violations typically carry a $500 to $1,000 penalty, but said that the sewer system is designed to handle such intrusions.

"It has no effect on drinking water," he said. "Once it goes into our sewer systems, it goes into our treatment plants, and they can handle it."

He added that homeowners with basements flooded during Hurricane Sandy were allowed to pump water into the sewer, but that was an exception to the rule.

"Outside of a superstorm like Sandy, it is illegal to do that," he said.

In January, neighbors on the block complained about a stinky cloud of white gas that officials determined was caused by someone pouring cooking grease into a sewer grate containing a ConEd transformer at West 56th Street and Eighth Avenue.

The West 56th Street spill prompted complaints from neighbors of putrid smells and loud clean-up crews.

Both neighbors and Brewer have pushed for greater transparency in the process. They said Sheffield, the DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have done little to notify neighbors about the spill and the resulting clean-up.

Officials also fear the impact the spill could have on the surrounding area if heating oil gets into the groundwater or local infrastructure. City and state organizations are currently investigating, but had few answers for concerned residents. 

Neither Riteway nor The Sheffield responded to requests for comment.