A steam pipe recently exploded in Manhattan, and residents and workers from 49 nearby buildings have been evacuated for up to several days depending on their location. The blast of the old pipe occurred during morning rush hour in Midtown, causing a crater to form in the street and a vapor plume to linger for hours. Now, reports have indicated asbestos was found in the debris.
The asbestos discovered in the 86-year-old pipe may have spread to the area’s streets, buildings, and ventilation systems, all of which would need to be decontaminated, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Now that we know there’s asbestos present, we’re not going to cut any corners,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to be thorough.”
Street closings and the evacuations of 28 buildings in the “hot zone” near the explosion at Fifth Avenue and West 21 will be at the forefront of the efforts, and residents will be unable to return home until the entire area has been cleared. Some of the 49 buildings on the outer edges of the explosion area may be reopened sooner. “People will not be let back into their apartments until we have cleared their building,” the Mayor said.
An estimated 500 people from nearly 250 residential units have been left without a home to return to, according to the New York City’s Emergency Management Department. Luckily, only minor injuries resulted from the explosion. At an impromptu information center was set up by the City inside a public school where the displaced individuals could listen to emergency service workers give out the latest information and field questions.
“I’m a little scared,” said Chree Taylor, who works in advertising and was caught in the cloud on her way to the gym that day. “I kind of got this kind of brown mist on me, just lightly but, you know, I’m sure I breathed something in.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has tasked the state’s Department of Public Service with initiating a full investigation into the cause of the explosion and determining whether it coincides with any utility usage. Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor of health and human services, said the main health risks are a result of repeated, long-term exposure to asbestos. The prompt evacuation of the area’s residents likely means they need only to worry about a brief, one-time exposure. However, the city must thoroughly remediate any problem areas.
Government officials have urged anyone who may be contaminated to shower immediately. They’ve asked that they remove their clothes, bag them, and bring them to Consolidated Edison Inc, the power company that maintains the steam line. The blast may have damaged other underground lines in the area which carry water, gas, and electricity. Thus, all have been temporarily shut down until repairs are done, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
“Like so much of our infrastructure in New York, the steam infrastructure is getting older and needs to be upgraded,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of New York’s Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan policy organization.
Consolidated Edison Inc., which operates New York’s steam infrastructure, responded that old, yet reliable its system “operates well most of the time” and John-Patrick Curran, a New York environmental attorney, added, “The work necessary to go in and abate all of the steam pipes would be astronomical.”