A Great Big City

Steam Pipe Ruptures near Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building

5th ave and 21st street, manhattan
5th ave and 21st street, manhattan via Google Maps
5th ave and 21st street, manhattan Crater caused by steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron District
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At 6:40am Thursday morning, a steam pipe explosion near the Flatiron Building caused large plumes of white steam to erupt from a crater in the street.

The pipe, installed in 1932, carries hot steam from ConEd generation plants to large buildings across Manhattan where it is used for heating, cooling, and running other older building machinery.

Due to the early hour, few pedestrians were in the area, and the only injuries reported have been scrapes and bruises, but if anyone was in the area at the time, ConEd is advising them to bag their clothes as a precaution against possible asbestos exposure when the explosion occurred. The pipes are old enough that they could have been insulated with asbestos, which would have become airborne in the explosion debris. A similar cleanup effort was required when a steam pipe burst near Grand Central in 2007. In the 2007 explosion, heavy rains were a possible cause, and NYC had flooding rains two days prior to this current explosion.

The FDNY has evacuated surrounding buildings and anyone needing access to the area should expect ongoing street closures as the repairs and cleanup will be quite extensive.

Concerning asbestos from the blast, here is some info from the Department of Health:

All air samples have been negative for asbestos. Some debris samples contained asbestos. However, it is very unlikely that people exposed to this event will develop an asbestos-related illness. Asbestos-related illnesses usually develop after many years of exposure. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions may be experiencing breathing difficulties. Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat from exposure to the debris is also possible. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

Thursday, July 19 at 10:04am: Steam has now been shut off and aerial video from ABC News (above) shows the damaged infrastructure below the street and a Volkswagen vehicle that was parked right on the edge of the open crater.

Thursday, July 19 at 11:49am: Important information: Asbestos decontamination facilities are being made available to the public on Fifth Avenue at 19th and 22nd Street. If you were in the Flatiron area this morning, visit one of these FDNY stations to make sure you do not have asbestos residue on your clothes or body.

Friday, July 20 at 11:35am: Asbestos has been confirmed at the explosion site, and now the cleanup effort begins. ConEd will replace the cost of any clothing that may have been covered in debris from the blast, but it needs to be sealed in a plastic bag and taken to the ConEd location at Broadway and 22nd in Manhattan. Buildings are still being inspected for asbestos residue, with the 28 buildings closest to the plume of steam being of greatest concern, but the cleanup may expand outward to as many as 50 buildings, and take days to complete.

Saturday, July 21 at 4:02pm: ConEd has begun washing buildings in the area as a precaution against any asbestos residue. The FDNY is hosing down building faces and the water runoff is then collected by vacuums to be filtered.

Monday, July 23 at 11:12am: Fifth Avenue is beginning to reopen after building faces were washed over the weekend. The city will hold informational meetings Monday night, with briefings for building owners and businesses at 5:30pm and one for residents at 7pm. Both will be held at the Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street, west of Union Square.

Tuesday, July 24 at 3:07pm: Asbestos-containing debris has been found inside 12 buildings surrounding the blast site and will require further cleanup. This is likely due to dust being tracked in on shoes or drifting in through open windows or ventilation machinery. Most of the buildings still contaminated are along Fifth Avenue, but consult the Office of Emergency Management's press release for a full list of the contaminated buildings as well as the 27 buildings now cleared for reoccupancy.

Saturday, July 28 at 2:38pm: The official Office of Emergency Management page shows that more buildings have been cleared, with only six being partially or fully closed due to the asbestos cleaning process.

Sunday, July 29 at 5:33pm: The final day to visit the reception center at Clinton School near Union Square will be Monday, July 30th before 5pm. Follow this NYC Emergency Management page for updated occupancy letters for each building as the city and ConEd work to clear any questionable debris.


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