New York Steam Pipe Explosion Raises Asbestos Concerns
An underground steam pipe insulated with asbestos exploded in the Flatiron section of Manhattan on July 19, sending a cloud of vapor ten stories high, according to media reports. No one was seriously hurt in the explosion, but the New York City Department of Environmental Protection confirmed the presence of asbestos. More than 40 buildings were evacuated, and The New York Times reported that approximately 100 firefighters who responded to the blast were expected to be treated in asbestos decontamination units. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged people who were covered in debris from the explosion to take showers and bag their clothes. Con Edison, the utility that owns the steam pipe, was accepting bags of possibly contaminated clothes at multiple locations in the city. On July 20, New York City firefighters sprayed the facades of affected buildings with water to wash off any asbestos. According to Con Edison, crews on the ground collected the runoff and filtered it before releasing it into catch basins. A short video of the cleanup work released by Con Edison is available online. Information from DEP indicated that the agency had collected more than 2,600 air and bulk samples by early August. No asbestos was found in the air samples, according to DEP. Some bulk samples contained asbestos at levels beneath EPA’s 0.01 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) clearance standard.  A statement on DEP’s website indicated that the department “does not expect people to develop adverse health effects related to asbestos exposure from this event.”  As of Aug. 4, all but two buildings had been cleared for re-occupancy. The steam pipe that exploded was laid in 1932, according to city officials. More than 100 miles of steam pipes beneath New York’s streets deliver vapor that powers heating and cooling systems in thousands of buildings. For more information about steam pipe explosions in New York, see this month's installment of "By the Numbers." For the Times’ coverage of the explosion, visit the articles "Asbestos Confirmed in Steam Pipe That Exploded in Manhattan" and "Flatiron District Fears Contamination After Steam Pipe Explosion."
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