Industrial Oil Spilled Into Naugatuck River

Oil from an industrial accident created slicks for miles along the Naugatuck River.

                                      Story By John Murray

             Photographs By Sondra Zak and Geraldo Reyes Jr.

  Joe DeMatos was enjoying his Saturday afternoon at the Polish American Club in Naugatuck when he noticed an oil slick on the Naugatuck River floating past. The slick was large and it kept on coming. After several minutes DeMatos decided to contact "the river guy", and alert him to a possible oil spill up river.

   The river guy is Kevin Zak, the executive director of the Naugatuck River Revival Group (NRRG), and DeMatos reached out to him on Facebook at 4 pm. The NRRG's Facebook page is adminsitered by Kevin's wife, Sondra, who by all accounts is the "river gal". Sondra Zak got the message and immediately went to the Pulaski Bridge in Naugatuck to observe the slick. When she saw the extent of the spill she contacted the Naugatuck Fire Department. As she waited for the fire department to arrive Sondra spoke to a woman on the bridge. The woman watched the slick flowing past and grew upset.

   "She asked me it it was another sewage spill from Waterbury," Sondra Zak said. "And then she began to cry."

   An electrical accident at the Water Pollution Control facility in Waterbury on Columbus Day had uncorked 5,000,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Naugatuck River, effectively killing a several mile stretch of the watershed. Perhaps the most chilling part of the accident was that the public and neighboring towns down river first learned about the spill in an expose written by Michael Puffer in the Republican-American newspaper ten days after the discharge. The accident has been statewide news for months as Waterbury investigated the incident. The state mandated a clean-up and ordered Waterbury to come up with a protocol for notifying the public in the event of future accidents.

   Today's incident wasn't at the sewage treatment plant, it was at Somers Thin Strip on Baldwin Avenue in the South End of Waterbury.  5000 gallons of machine oil was discharged into storm drains outside the facility, and within an hour the oil had spread a several-mile-long oil slick reaching from 1300 South Main all the way down to the Pulaski Bridge in Naugatuck.

   Mayor Neil O'Leary's chief of staff, Joe Geary, told the Observer that a call came into the Waterbury Fire Department at 3 pm this afternoon. "5000 gallons of oil went across the asphalt and into a catch basin," Geary said. "From there in flowed down a storm drain and directly into the Naugatuck River."

Four fire trucks and a hazmat truck set up shop along South Main Street to try and contain the oil at the drain pipe as it entered into the Naugatuck River.

Waterbury firefighters used absorbent booms to try and corral the oil. Joe Geary said there would be attempts to go down river to try and intercept oil slicks in Beacon Falls.

What impact the oil will have on the river's ecosystem is unclear, and it won't be until daybreak that the damage along the shoreline will be visible.

Olin Corporation owns Somer Thin Strip and is the leading manufacturer and converter of copper and copper-alloy sheet, strip, foil, tube and fabricated components in North America.

Denis Cuevas is the general manager of Waterbury's Pollution Control facility and took a lot of heat for not informing Mayor O'Leary or the public about the 5,000,000 gallons of raw sewage that was dumped into the Naugatuck River on Columbus Day. Although today's accident wasn't at his faciilty, Cuevas set off an alarm notifying the mayor, the health department, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Derby, and the Environmental Committee in Waterbury via e-mail by 7:45 pm.

Sondra Zak was notified of the oil spill via Facebook and spent the last light of day documenting the spill with a video camera.

   Kevin Zak was tied up photographing a basketball game this afternoon and didn't fully engage in today's oil spill until after 6 pm. Zak said he was encouraged by the response to the accident.

   "First the company reported the accident itself," Zak said. "Then Joe DeMatos reported what he saw from the Polish American Club and contacted the Naugatuck River Revival Group. Waterbury contacted DEEP, and Denis Cuevas sent out an alarm up and down the river. This is all progress, people are communicating."