Mystery spill in Stamford leaves officials scratching their heads

Five days after a spill estimated at thousands of gallons of a black, oily substance was seen in the water at Stamford Harbor, officials are still scratching their heads at what it could be and where it may have come from.

“The material doesn’t seem to be anything that we can easily trace to a source,” said Dennis Greci, an engineer with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). “And that’s causing us a bit of consternation.”

The most that state or city officials can say about the spill is what it isn’t: It isn’t partially treated sewage from the city’s waste-water treatment plant. Nor is it discharge from pump-out stations at the nearby marina.

Greci wouldn’t speculate on what else the substance could be, saying that chemical testing is ongoing. “We’re still looking for, ‘who’s the next likely suspect?'” he said.

Officials don’t even know the extent of the spill, since no witnesses to the event have come forward. Greci estimated the actual number of gallons to be in the thousands.

When the spill was first reported and investigated, DEEP determined that the material would flush out of the harbor on its own. Greci and Stamford officials said the substance, first seen in the water last Friday, is no longer visible, which suggests that it was indeed naturally flushed out. State and city officials also say the spill is not a threat to public health, since fishing in the harbor was already undergoing a routine shutdown.

Still, the mystery surrounding the spill has frustrated environmental officials and caused a swarm of media attention.

“I’m getting more media calls on this than I’ve gotten on homicides in the past,” said Ted Jankowski, the city’s director of public safety.

Jankowski said he expects fishing to resume in the harbor by the weekend, once the local health department finishes testing the water and the state finalizes its report on the incident.

Neither city nor state officials could say how long they may be out in the field investigating the spill, though Jankowski said he would be surprised if it continued into next week.

“We may never know the source of the spill,” he said.