Oil Leak from Apartment Building Fouls New York River

June 4, 2010

A hard-to-find fuel oil leak fouled the Bronx River in the New York City suburbs for hours on Wednesday before workers traced it to a downtown apartment building and stopped the flow, officials said.

The spill was discovered Wednesday morning in White Plains and spurted out several hundred gallons of commercial grade heating oil into the river before its source was found and the leak was stanched, official said.

The oil reached about three miles downriver from White Plains to Scarsdale, officials said.

Some geese and ducks were found coated with oil and will be treated by wildlife experts, White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley said. He said no dead animals were reported and fish seemed less affected than birds.

As hazmat workers extended booms to trap the spill and used vacuum pumps to siphon it off the river, officers searched for the source.

“It wasn’t as easy as we hoped,” Bradley said. “We had to go through storm drains.”

The source was found in the basement of 235 South Lexington Ave., a 12-story apartment building several blocks from the river. Reporters were not allowed in but a maintenance worker was seen leaving with agents of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Neither Bradley nor Westchester County executive Rob Astorino would say what caused the leak. Bradley’s spokeswoman Antoinette Biordi said the oil came from the basement of the building and flowed through storm drains into the river.

The mayor said the district attorney and city police would investigate to see who should be held responsible and determine whether criminal charges were appropriate. Whoever is at fault will pay the cleanup expenses, he said.

“The taxpayers won’t pay,” Astorino added.

Officials said the river cleanup could take several weeks.

Astorino said first word of the spill, which may have begun Tuesday night, came from a woman out for a run Wednesday morning.

“She smelled something and said something,” he said.

The odor was still prevalent near the river Wednesday afternoon as an oily sheen covered the water.

“It smells like an old leaky furnace,” said Anita Shenin of Scarsdale, out walking with her Chihuahua, Peppino.

The river, once garbage-choked, has been substantially cleaned in recent years. Beaver and herring have been seen in the New York City portion of the river for the first time in many years. The waterway is now home to more than 40 species of fish.

In January 2007, more than 1,000 gallons of gasoline spilled from an overfilled tank during a delivery at a service station in downtown White Plains, and some of the fuel reached the Bronx River as far as 21/2 miles south.

In September, the state attorney general’s office reached a $7 million settlement with municipalities including White Plains that had been accused of dumping raw sewage into the river.

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