Local boaters are frustrated with the results of a cleanup effort more than a week after a gas explosion filled Paedergat Basin with up to 1,400 gallons of oil. And New York State Department of Environmental Conservation tests from an oil sample in the basin taken after the spill revealed that the water contained a high level of PCBs, a cancer causing contaminant, according to a statement released by the agency.
The explosion occurred on September 28 as National Grid, a British multinational electricity and gas company, was working to fill two old gas pipelines with a concrete grout mixture when oil began to spill into the basin early in the morning. State investigators determined that oil from the pipeline had 10,000 parts per million of PCBs—well above hazardous waste levels.
The cleanup of the remaining oil sheen, led by the U.S. Coast Guard along with National Grid and its contractor, Miller Environmental based in Long Island, was completed last weekend, according to National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young. National Grid plans to conduct a long-term investigation on the causes of the spill after the initial cleanup.
But boaters say that National Grid’s work is far from over.
For example, members of the Canarsie Adolescent Recreation Program, a non-profit aimed at teaching children boating safety and how to fish, say that National Grid has overlooked their boats in the cleanup process. They say that cleaning crews have begun working to remove oil sheen at all the other docks except theirs.
“We were told not to start the boats. But why have they taken so long to at least look at this marina?” asks Osvaldo Mejill, 58, who owns a boat at the dock. “Is it because we have cheap boats? That’s wrong.” Boats at area yacht clubs range in value from as low as $3,000 to $1 million.
Pablo Tafur, 57, dock manager at the recreation program’s marina, says that other than National Grid staffers taking down the serial numbers of each of the boats at their dock, the boaters are not getting the attention that their wealthier yacht club neighbors have received. “They haven’t done nothing here,” says Tafur, who’s been managing the dock for 10 years. “They have to take up all the boats and clean it. But I don’t know how they’re gonna do that.”
While absorbent pads have been placed near the docks of nearby yacht clubs in the area, the recreation program, which says it got the brunt of the spill, has yet to receive any.
National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young says the company is looking into the matter, but is waiting for the go-ahead before starting to clean shipping equipment.
“Any requirements of washing of vessels or other facilities, that’ll be directed by the Coast Guard and the DEC,” she said. “And we will proceed accordingly, once the Coast Guard and the DEC makes that decision.”
Even at yacht clubs where cleanup has begun, boaters are worrying about how the spill will eventually affect wildlife in the area and the docks after the cleaning crews leave.
“All the docks are made with styrofoam and will have to be replaced since they’re absorbing the oil,” said Russell Warren, commodore of the Midget Squadron Yacht Club, located on Seaview Avenue and is the largest yacht club in the area.
He says the price tag for replacing his dock could cost upwards of $100,000.
Warren added that “our concern is the PCB level and what that’s gonna be like five years from now.”
Warren says that the state DEC has only swabbed ten of the 65 boats at his yacht club for PCB testing. He says the cleaning crews are doing what they can but would like to see a long-term commitment in the area by National Grid after the cleanup is done. And local environmentalists agree.
“We’re very disappointed with National Grid,” says Daniel Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, an environmental advocacy group. “This mistake is going to cost the bay. We hope DEC holds their feet to the fire.”
Mundy, who oversees a 45-acre plot of restoration land in Jamaica Bay located on the opposite end of Paedergat Basin, is concerned that the PCBs will eventually enter the food chain through their consumption by fish.
“You could only clean up so much of this,” said Mundy. “ You’re never going to get everything up. It’s physically impossible.”
DEC says the state health department plans to review data collected on contaminant levels in Paerdegat Basin water and may also recommend fish sampling to determine whether residents can eat what they catch from the basin.
Meanwhile, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management has issued an advisory to avoid recreational boating and fishing in the area until further notice.
But that hasn’t stopped residents from casting their fishing lines. “We’ve been eating the fish we catch from here for 6 or 7 years and it hasn’t done anything to us,” says Simeon Anderson, fishing with his wife, Gloria unfazed by the idea of PCBs floating in the water they fish in. “So, we’re still fishing here.”