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Leak of dielectric fluid makes its way to harbor, warranting response from U.S. Coast Guard

Village by: Joanne Kountourakis, July 20, 2022

Multiple layers of protective berms have been placed in the water of Northport Harbor to capture any dielectric fluid carried downhill by Monday’s rainfall.

Another leak of dielectric fluid occurred in Northport Village on Monday, July 18, this time accompanied by downpours that caused the fluid, mixed with rainwater, to flow down Main Street and wash into Northport Harbor. The U.S. Coast Guard patrolled Northport Harbor the evening of the incident and Tuesday morning to assess impacts to the harbor.

This is the third leak of dielectric fluid in Northport Village in six months. According to Trustee Joe Sabia, Commissioner of Public Works and Highway, Village police were notified by residents of the leak and “slick road” conditions at approximately 7:15 Monday morning. Highway crews put sand down near the intersection of Church and Vail Street to try and contain the fluid, Mr. Sabia said, but the heavy rain breached the berm.

“It ended up in the harbor,” said the trustee, who was told by PSEG that the fluid is nonhazardous. “It looks like hell, but it’s still safe.”

According to Village Administrator Roland Buzard, one of the first responders on the scene, very little oil made it to the water. He credited the highwaymen who stepped up and assisted in efforts to protect the harbor both before and after PSEG arrived. The retaining dam they built was five or six feet high, he said, and helped lessen the impact of the leak. The Village of Northport deployed sanders and sweeping equipment to the impacted area to remove any material remaining on roadway areas at 4am Tuesday as well.

“One of our biggest concerns was protecting Main Street and the harbor,” Mr. Buzard said. “We protected the harbor. There was oil that came out and we prevented it from going into the watershed.”

PSEG officials said the leaked fluid contains no PCBs, and is similar to mineral oil. The fluid often serves as electrical insulation for high voltage cables, keeping the transmission cable cool so that it can reliably carry power.

The source of the leak was identified on Church Street, near Soundcrest Avenue, early Wednesday morning and was permanently clamped by PSEG, said officials in an updated statement. Current cleanup activities are focusing on three locations: the Church Street area, Northport Harbor and the Village’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, located at Scudder Park.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is overseeing the cleanup being conducted by PSEG and Miller Environmental. “DEC is working in close coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Village of Northport and will continue to oversee the cleanup until complete and public health and the environment are protected,” officials wrote in their statement to the Journal.

Miller Environmental was hired to conduct cleanup activities, is assessing impacted storm drains in the area and will remove any material that is remaining in affected storm drains on Main Street to prevent ongoing releases to Northport Harbor.

Officials told the Journal that a sheen was noted in the harbor during the Coast Guard patrols, but may be contained to the bulkhead. Miller Environmental has deployed oil absorbent sweeps and booms to the area to collect and confine any dialectic fluid that may have made its way to the harbor through the storm drain system. The sweeps and booms will be changed as needed to collect dielectric fluid that reached the harbor.

Miller Environmental, pictured here assessing impacted storm drains on Main Street and removing any material that is remaining in the drains to prevent ongoing releases to Northport Harbor, was hired to conduct cleanup activities after rain caused leaked dielectric fluid to flow down Main Street.

PSEG Long Island confirmed that multiple layers of protective berms have been placed in the water of Northport Harbor to capture any dielectric fluid carried downhill by Monday’s rainfall. The berms will remain in place for several tide cycles.

The leak occurred in “a different section of the transmission cable than the section that was repaired earlier this year after being damaged by excavators,” PSEG Long Island said in a statement to the Journal.

Northport Village dealt with leaks of dielectric fluid both in January and March of this year, from an underground transmission line also in the Church Street area. While cleanup was completed immediately, repairs to that line lasted three months.

Street closures from Monday’s leak went into effect soon after the leak was reported and PSEG crews were still in place as of Wednesday afternoon. Church Street remains closed from the intersection at Edgaret Place to Main Street. PSEG excavated portions of Church Street yesterday to identify and repair the leak. The excavation will remain open until the transmission line is repressurized and it is confirmed that the repair was successful.

PSEG is conducting outreach to neighbors in the vicinity of the spill area to determine the need to address impacted soils on their yards. Residents will continue to have access to their driveways.

The Village’s wastewater facility was also affected by the spill. Noticeable standing dielectric cable fluid was removed from the plant’s Equalizer (EQ) Tank, said officials. Village staff redirected their sewer intake to isolate the EQ tank and the plant is currently operational. The EQ and sludge tanks are being emptied by Miller Environmental along with any contaminated wastewater which will be properly disposed of at a licensed facility. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) inspected the plant on Wednesday and found no violations or release of dielectric fluid in the final effluent.

An estimate of how much fluid leaked on Monday is not available at this time, said state officials, but PSEG should be able to provide insight once they repressurize the line. An official report of this latest spill should be available on the NYSDEC’s Spill Incidents Database this week. For further information on the inspection at the wastewater facility, residents may contact the SCDHS.

Trustee Sabia said PSEG will repair the line, and pay for clean up.

Correction: This article originally stated that the leak of dielectric fluid occurred at 7:15 in the evening. It has since been corrected to read 7:15 in the morning.