Chestnut Street Remains Partially Closed Following Leak

January 4, 2024
• A portion of Chestnut Street remains closed after the Dec. 18th storm, which brought heavy rain and wind through Needham and surrounding communities.

In the days following the storm, Eversource discovered an underground transmission leak on the Dover side of the Chestnut Street bridge. PTC fluid — described as “an insulator and cooling medium” — had dripped through the road into the Charles River below, triggering action by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, according to a statement from Eversource shared by the Needham Police Department Dec. 26.

By Dec. 24, the route was only open to emergency vehicles, but on Christmas Day, Chestnut Street reopened for those going into Needham.

While the Needham-bound lane is now open, drivers heading to Dover across the bridge have to find an alternative route. The Needham Police Department advises travelers to take South Street to Willow Street in Dover, but larger vehicles should instead drive down Mill Street, as Willow Street has a weight restriction. Navigation apps have been updated to warn people of the closure.

Deputy Chief Chris Baker said he himself hasn’t been disrupted by the detour. One lane reopened “in the best interest of public safety,” given the number of ambulances traveling to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, he added.

“I actually come in and out that way… I haven’t had any issues with that detour myself,” Baker said. “The traffic’s been fine.”

To mitigate environmental impacts to the Charles River, officials from Clean Harbors Environmental Services in Weymouth used absorbent booms, flotation devices that help prevent the spread of water contaminants, on Dec. 23.

Adverse effects from the spillage “were not initially observed during assessment and repair activities” Dec. 23, Eversource stated, but upon returning to the site the following day, crews noticed a “sheen” on the southwest side of the bridge.

A media representative from Eversource confirmed that the transmission fluid leakage is under control.

“Any release to the environment is currently contained or controlled, and our cleanup effort continues as planned with the support of and in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection,” Eversource Media Relations Manager William Hinkle wrote by email. “There is no risk to public health or drinking water, and we will be able to finalize the cleanup of the area once the necessary repairs to [the] electric system are completed.”

In its prior statement, Eversource explained PTC transmission poses minimal harm.

“For reference, PTC transmission is used by Eversource to supply electricity to substations in congested areas,” Eversource stated. “PTC fluid is a low toxicity, highly refined synthetic dielectric fluid that does not contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”

Despite traffic cones and signage alerting drivers to the closure, Needham Police reported via Facebook a number of cars and cyclists circumventing the blockages. Amid the confusion, Baker said he hasn’t heard of any accidents in the area.

Baker said residents can likely expect both lanes to be open in a couple weeks. Police officers are stationed at the site to help direct residents if needed.

“Crews are working around the clock to remedy the issues and reopen the road,” Needham Police shared on Facebook.

Amy Haelsen, Needham’s director of communications and community engagement, directed comment to Eversource.

“The Needham Police Department is providing police details for the transformer situation but that is it,” Haelsen wrote.

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