NYC Readies Sandbags to Barricade Steam-Pipe Blast Site

July 23, 2018

New York City had sandbags at the ready Friday night to barricade the site of a Manhattan steam-pipe explosion against possible heavy rains that could complicate the cleanup of asbestos-laced debris.

Hundreds of residents in Manhattan’s Flatiron District were shut out of their homes and businesses, a day after the explosion spewed vapor into the air. But streets closest to the site were gradually being opened.

It could take days to check and clean the buildings, which include 28 in a “hot zone” closest to the site where the blast left a crater roughly 20 feet by 15 feet (6 meters by 4.5 meters).

Authorities have not determined what caused the blast in the 86-year-old main.

All air samples tested for asbestos have been negative, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, which was preparing the sandbags.

The Con Edison utility that uses a network of steam pipes to power heating and cooling systems in thousands of Manhattan buildings advised anyone who was near the explosion to bag the clothes they were wearing and deliver them to two designated collection sites.

Con Ed spokesman Allan Drury said the clothing would be disposed of using an environmental contractor, on the assumption at least some of the items may have come into contact with asbestos. The utility also promised to reimburse people for the clothes they lost and provide financial assistance to cover the costs of finding a place to stay during the cleanup.

Authorities said no one was seriously injured in the Thursday morning blast. But people exposed to the steam said they worried about possible health effects.

Connie Wang told The New York Times she was jogging down Fifth Avenue on Thursday when she ran into the aftermath of the blast.

“I just got ash all over me, inhaled a little bit of it, and got some in my eye, actually,” Wang said. “I guess it’s just weird because it’s one of those things that if you’re poisoned, you don’t know for decades, and an initial exposure is supposed to be fine, but it’s very concerning.”

The Departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Mental Hygiene will decide when residents can return after an assessment of how many buildings could have been contaminated. Crews in protective suits have been entering buildings since Thursday, retrieving belongs and pets.

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