Slightly after 9pm on Thursday night, a strange blue cloud over Queens lit up the night sky. The Island’s various message boards and internet forums were abuzz with concerns, along with photos of the otherworldly, surreal vista. On social media, Islanders posted images of the sky across the river, illuminated by an eerie green-blue light.
Initially thought to be a transformer explosion, ConEd issued a statement on Twitter shortly after that read, “There was a brief electrical fire at our substation in Astoria which involved some electrical transformers and caused a transmission dip in the area.” The fire caused no injuries, The Associated Press reported.
photo by Alexandre Tolipan shows Motorgate, 40 River Road, and the explosion site
The explosion impacted subway service in the area and caused a brief ground stop at LaGuardia Airport, which experienced power outages. According to airport tweets, power was restored about 30 minutes later, and all flights resumed with delays.
Shortly after the explosion, the councilmember for the area, Costa Constantinides, tweeted, “We are still waiting to hear how the transformer blast at the #Astoria #ConEd plant might affect air quality in the area.
We know many residents are worried. We will keep you posted once we are certain.”
Located at 20th Avenue and 32nd Street in Astoria, the Astoria East and North Queens Con Edison plant burns more than three million gallons of number 6 fuel oil a year, making it one of New York’s dirtiest power stations.
As we’ve previously reported, the Ravenswood Generating Station, known as Big Allis, located just across the East Channel from Roosevelt Island, is the largest carbon polluter in the state.
According to Constantinides, the fine particulate matter released when you burn number 6 and number 4 oils contributes to more than 2,000 deaths annually, 2,000 hospital admissions for heart and lung conditions annually, and approximately 238,000 and 84,000 annual emergency room visits for asthma in children and adults respectively, throughout the City.
Roosevelt Island’s position, between the Ravenswood Generating Station to the east, and the 74th Street Power Station on the Upper East side, place it in a particularly vulnerable spot. (The New York Power Authority Plant, located to the north of the Roosevelt Island bridge, burns natural gas, not oil).
Constantinides says that the zip codes nearest the Ravenswood Generating Station have higher than average emergency room visits and hospitalizations [relating to asthma/breathing complaints] compared to the rest of Queens. In his role as chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, Constantinides is leading the charge to demand that these two plant operators, along with those of another four power plants in New York City, stop using the dirtiest grades of oil to power them.