According to Toxics Targeting, an independent
environmental study group, dozens of hazardous spills continue to occur at Con
Edisons Queens plants.
On December 7, 1994 39,580 gallons of hazardous waste consisting of heavy grade
fuel oil oozed out of an underground pipeline at Con Edisons Ravenswood Plant in
Long Island City. This was one of dozens of spills that occurred at Con Eds two
Queens plants during 1994.
Three months later, in February 1995, Con Ed agreed to clean up its act to stop
"discharging petroleum products into the environment," and pay the price for 319
environmental violations dating from 1984 to 1991, including dumping oil into the
The utility paid the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) $9 million,
and shelled out an additional $5 million to establish a "New York City Environmental
Fund" per the DECs consent order.
In October 1997, the DEC came back to Con Ed with another consent order, charging that
the utility continually "discharged petroleum products into the environment and
failed to immediately contain certain discharges."
The consent order specifically highlighted the 1994 underground pipeline hazardous
waste spill, which Con Ed had failed to clean up as of 1997 and again told the
utility to clean up the 39,580 gallons of heavy grade fuel. The utilitys hand was
slapped; this time it had to pay the Nature Conservancy $345,000 as well as a $385,000
fine to the DEC.
The 1994 hazardous waste spill has still not been cleaned up as of the beginning of
this year, according to a report generated by Toxics Targeting, an independent
environmental company in Ithaca, New York.
There are over 30 Con Ed spills in Queens, each over 1,000 gallons, that do not meet
environmental standards, states the January 1999 Toxics Targeting report.
Toxics Targetings Walter Hang says one of the most dangerous hazardous waste
materials are PCBs (poly chlorinated biphenyls), which are stored in the borough.
"All the PCBs from the entire city end up in Queens," he said. "They suck
all the PCBs from the citys manholes and transport them to Queens."
The 1997 state consent order from the state reported that Con Ed "had exceeded the
limit of 65 parts per trillion of PCBs at the Rainy Tank Farm in the Ravenswood Generating
Station a total of six times." To correct the problem, Con Ed installed a carbon
filter to eliminate the potential for any future PCB violations.
One longtime Con Ed worker said there are several crews that go out and clean manholes
and their leaks. "They suck up everything in the manholes where the old transformers
are," he said. "Many times they are contaminated and full of PCBs. In the old
days they used to dump the stuff on the ground at the plantit used to ooze out on
hot summer days. Now they are more careful."
According to the worker, there is a transformer workshop where no one wants to work,
due to fear of PCBs. "They bring the old transformers in and no one wants to work on
them even though we wear protective outfits."
The employee added that things have improved in the last few years. "Any employee
who believes there is any personal or environmental danger involved with a job can take a
time out," the employee added. "Effectively they stop their work until
theyre sure its safe."
A spokesman for Con Ed said, "The company has put together an environmental
program to avoid any environmental problems. We are not only making efforts to be within
the law, we have gone above and beyond it."
Still, Community Board 1 member Joan Asselin is concerned about the hazards of a Con Ed
plant right in her backyard in Long Island City. "Now we know so much more about
cancer than we used to. And we know that PCBs are linked to cancer. An inordinate number
of people have died from cancer in Ravenswood," said Asselin. "On one block near
the plant, five or six people have died from cancer in the last ten years. You cant
tell me the PCBs arent affecting the people of this community" she added.
There has been no study that conclusively links cancer to PCBs, although the Federal
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes there is a correlation.
The World Health Organization also says PCBs are human carcinogens. "There is
overwhelming evidence that PCBs cause low birth weight, smaller head circumference in
newborns, as well as neurological problems." said EPA spokesperson Anne Rychlenski.
"There has been loads of research on animals that prove that PCBs cause cancer."
PCBs were banned in 1979 by the federal government after studies showed a link between
PCB exposure and cancer as well as low birth weights.
Still they are used to cool the transformers which pre-date 1979. In September of 1998,
a transformer at Staten Islands Con Ed Power plant caught on fireexposing over
a dozen fire fighters to high levels of dangerous PCBs.
Initially Con Ed reported that its PCB levels were low and legal31 parts per
million. Later tests showed the level to be over 50,000 parts per million.
"PCBs are the most ubiquitous chemicals in the world," said the EPA
And no one knows for sure how many millions of pounds in Queens have been inherited
from decades of use.
While Con Ed has taken steps to deal with the hazardous materials, the company is
selling its Queens plants as a result of New Yorks utility deregulation.
It has been pushed by the Pataki administration in an effort to lower the States
high electric rates.
Pending contractual agreements, the Ravenswood plant will be sold to KeySpan Energy;
the Astoria site is being sold to Orion Power. The deals are expected to be finalized by
the end of the year.
And that leaves Asselin worried. "Who knows how the new owners will deal with the
problem. There ought to be laws against selling properties without environmental
At press time, Rob Liebline, a Queens based DEC Public Affairs and Education Officer
call the Tribune, and said that Con Ed is currently in compliance with the 1997
consent order. No documents or corroborating materials were forthcoming.