DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Emergency workers have recovered 560 gallons of synthetic mineral oil that spilled into the East River over the weekend — less than 2 percent of the oil missing following a "catastrophic" transformer failure at Con Edison's Downtown Brooklyn waterfront substation, officials said Wednesday.
Of the remaining 30,700 gallons of lost oil, some may still be recovered on land around the Farragut Substation, but the U.S. Coast Guard estimated Wednesday that around 5,200 gallons seeped into the river Sunday.
That estimate is based on averages from other cleanups where the agency estimates it can usually collect ten percent of the oil that escapes into water, officials said.
And clean water advocates warn that breakneck currents along the East River make it, "almost the worst possible spill recovery scenario."
John Lipscomb, a boat operator for Riverkeeper, a local clean water advocacy group that's been keeping tabs on the cleanup, gave the analogy of an ambulance driver responding to a call of a woman in labor.
"You don't want a call on 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve in a blizzard," he said. "That's what the East River is. It's horrible set of conditions for this kind of work."
Currents in the East River reach four nautical knots but booms, deployed to trap the oil from spreading into the rest of the river, can only withstand 1.5 knots of current, he said.
"The booms are being overtopped. The water's blowing right over them. This is the last place you [would want] to have product floating on the water and have someone say to you, 'Go get it.'"
Synthetic mineral oil is considered "non-toxic" by the state's DEC and is less harmful to water quality and wildlife tha petroleum, though it can still harm fish and birds, according to a Con Edison spokesman.
People should avoid direct contact with the spill as it can cause eye and skin irritation and shouldn't fish in the area, according to the state DEC.