New York City’s Steam Pipes
Following the July 18 steam pipe explosion in Manhattan, Con Edison, the utility that owns the pipe, informed city officials and the media that debris from the blast likely contained asbestos. Many of New York’s underground steam pipes are insulated with asbestos, and previous explosions—most notably in 2007 near Grand Central Terminal and in 1989 in Gramercy Park—have led not only to fatalities but to concerns about asbestos exposure.  New York’s network of steam pipes dates from the late 19th century and delivers steam to hundreds of buildings. The steam is put to many uses, such as heating, powering air conditioning units, dish washing in restaurants, and sterilizing instruments in hospitals. Over the years, Con Edison has repaired frequent ruptures; according to the utility, these repairs often involve the removal of asbestos insulation. But preemptively removing all the remaining asbestos would require digging up most of Manhattan’s streets. The New York Department of Environmental Protection stated that no asbestos had been detected in air samples taken after the July 2018 explosion (see related article in the NewsWatch section of this issue). Information about New York’s steam pipes appears below.
From the New York City Department of Environmental Protection: “DEP collected and analyzed 115 outdoor air samples on July 19 in the area surrounding the steam pipe explosion. All 115 samples were analyzed using PCM. Results ranged from <0.005 to 0.003 f/cc—well below the clearance standard of less than 0.01 f/cc. Seventy-six of these samples were also analyzed using TEM. No asbestos fibers were identified in any of the samples.”

New York City Department of Environmental Protection: “Steam Pipe Explosion in Manhattan Air Quality Monitoring and Health.” The New York Times: “Asbestos and Aging Pipes Remain Buried Hazards” (July 2007).
The New York Times: “Asbestos Confirmed in Steam Pipe That Exploded in Manhattan” (July 2018). The New York Times: “Con Ed Admits to Conspiracy To Cover Up Asbestos in Blast” (November 1994). The New York Times: “Flatiron District Fears Contamination After Steam Pipe Explosion” (July 2018). The New York Times: “A City Shaped by Steam” (Video, October 2014).
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In August, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that a student intern and a researcher at Oak Ridge Associated Universities had devised an experiment to replicate the McCluskey incident in order to study the effects of radiation on the body. By irradiating vials of their own blood for different lengths of time, the researchers hope to generate data that clinicians and first responders can refer to following an exposure incident.

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