On December 11, 2008, an ice storm devastated the Northeast causing critical damage to the utility infrastructure leaving over a million residents without power. Storm damage throughout the region was mostly related to fallen trees, power lines and utility poles. The storm made national headlines and prompted public officials to declare a state of emergency in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Maine. This case study will focus on the emergency response efforts in Massachusetts related to the cleanup of environmental impacts caused by the release of transformer oil (mineral oil dielectric fluid) contained within utility pole mounted transformers. Mineral oil dielectric fluid (MODF) is a highly refined mineral oil which is stable at high temperature and has excellent insulating properties. However, MODF does pose environmental risks and, as a result, is regulated under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP, 310 CMR 40.0000). Additionally, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were routinely used in oil-filled transformers well into the 1970’s. Massachusetts regulations require the notification and remediation of MODF releases to the environment. Reportable quantities, governing reporting requirements, and cleanup standards for MODF releases have been established based on the PCB content of the transformer oil. The widespread nature of the storm damage caused a logistical nightmare when coordinating emergency response activities. With over 100 reported releases of MODF, release sites were continually reevaluated to determine which posed the greatest threat to the environment, human health and public safety. Prioritization of release sites was accomplished only after careful consideration of various factors, including the PCB concentration of the transformer oil, impacted environmental receptors (wetlands, surface water, private water supplies, etc.) and the accessibility of each release site. In fact, accessibility may have proven to be the most crucial of factors when prioritizing cleanups, since many releases were not immediately discovered.
Barroso, Jason J.; Rocklin, Sarah A.; and Gendron, Kenneth J.
"The Ice Storm of 2008 and Emergency Response Coordination Throughout Western and Central Massachusetts,"
Proceedings of the Annual International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water and Energy: Vol. 15
, Article 23.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/soilsproceedings/vol15/iss1/23