In the wake of a natural gas explosion in New York City that killed seven people and injured dozens of others, federal investigators have determined that far too many fatal fires and explosions like this could have been prevented. Natural gas explosions are often the result of corroded pipelines that have gone uninspected for too long. Accident and injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm explore federal investigations into two recent fatal explosions.
The tragedy in NYC occurred in the East Harlem neighborhood around 9:30 a.m., causing two five-story buildings to collapse into rubble. The property damage was so massive that investigators were unable to get close enough to the pipeline to inspect it, however, firefighters say the area is now safe. Just 15 minutes before the explosion a resident in the building called Con Edison to complain about a gas odor.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates cases of natural gas explosions, and an official for the agency told Reuters that the scene was, in a word, devastating. He also stated that it was likely caused by the main, low-pressure gas distribution line that runs along Park Avenue to the Upper East Side.
East Harlem is a predominantly Latino neighborhood, and many residents had to wrap scarves or masks around their faces to avoid inhaling dust and smoke. Over 65 people had to relocate from their homes due to the damage, and have all been placed in shelters. Mayor de Blasio stated that anyone affected by the tragedy – regardless of immigration status – should seek help immediately.
Mayor de Blasio also expressed disappointment that the call to Con Ed was not made sooner, and urged anyone who smells gas to call either 311 or the utility company immediately, to hopefully prevent future devastation.
Con Ed stated that it repaired the pipeline in May 2013, which were re-checked on February 10 and 28 of this year. The NTSB is now trying to determine what exactly went wrong during these repairs and inspections to cause such a massive explosion.
West Virginia Fire Offers Lesson Not Learned
In late 2012, a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia ruptured, causing an explosion and intense fire that destroyed three homes, damaged asphalt roads and melted sidings on several other homes. NTSB investigators determined that it was caused by external pipe corrosion that should have been discovered by pipeline operators.
According to federal reports, the operator received a series of alerts in the minutes leading up to the explosion, indicating that pressure in the pipeline was decaying. Despite these warnings, it took the operator over ten minutes to recognize the rupture – even then, a shutdown was only initiated when a pipeline operator from a different gas company reported a possible rupture.
The negligent operator was employed by Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation.
After the rupture was finally reported to its control center, it took
over an hour to get field personnel to the site and shut down the gas
supply. Over 76 million cubic feet of natural gas was released and burned
during that time, which significantly worsened the property and personal damage.
NTSB reports note that the pipe was originally installed in 1967, and had not been inspected or tested at all since 1988. Had it been even minimally tested, the rupture would have been prevented.
Our team of toxic substance exposure attorneys hopes that gas utility providers have learned valuable lessons from these devastating explosions: inspection and testing can detect potentially-devastating defects early. If you or someone you love was affected by a toxic chemical leak of explosion, contact our firm immediately. We are currently investigating these types of cases nationwide, and our case reviews are free and confidential.