Gas leaks have claimed nine lives and injured dozens in the last two weeks with explosions in New Jersey and New York causing investigation into the recent rise. Tuesday, March 4, 2014 one person died and seven people were injured in a deadly gas explosion in Ewing Township, New Jersey.
On the same day in the morning hours, a call was placed to Public Service Energy and Gas by a contractor working on the property to inspect a gas line that was believed to have been accidentally damaged. An hour later, while PSE&G was working on the line, the explosion occurred. The blast knocked out windows, caused small fires and blew around debris for miles. This took place in a complex with two and three-story units causing major damage to 55 homes and minor damage to other surrounding units.
The one fatality was a female resident who lived next door to the unit where the blast originated. Her body was found atop of a vehicle burned beyond recognition and was later identified through dental records. The seven injuries were workers, five PSE&G workers and two workers from a local contractor all who suffered non-life threatening injuries. Since the blast happened during the day, it is believed to have spared lives having likely claimed more lives and caused more injuries if most people were not working.
Just seven days later on March 12, 2014 in New York, another gas explosion in East Harlem affecting two five-story buildings killing eight people and injuring 60 was also due to a gas leak. It was reported on Tuesday night March 11, 2013 that an odor of gas was in the air and on the morning of Wednesday that smell was still permeating the air. It was then after nine in the morning when Con Edison received a call from one of the building’s residents of a strong gas odor at the address, Con Edison dispatched workers at the site who arrived two minutes after the explosion, the call was placed 20 minutes before the deadly blast.
The recent rise in gas leaks and explosions could be due to the age of the gas mains. In the case of New York, the gas mains were 127-years- old. These recent explosions should serve as warnings for the utility companies to ramp up their efforts in repairing old equipment. In New York alone 60% of the gas mains are made of material no longer used in the industry such as unprotected steel and cast iron both of which are prone to leaks. The leaks also caused New York’s major utility distributor Con Edison to lose two percent of its gas delivered to customers. Repairing gas mains is not only necessary for safety but also is financially prudent.
An additional factor to the deterioration of the gas mains is severe weather. The extreme cold is a contributing factor to causing leaks in gas mains as the frost will crack cast iron. When the cast iron cracks the gas cannot escape through the earth as the soil is frozen so instead escapes sideways and subsequently into buildings. Gas companies including Con Edison and PSE&G have been working hard to replace the old gas pipes with plastic, but are on a race against time.
Experts believe gas companies are merely lucky that there haven’t been more explosions in the past. It is believed the larger northern states are more at risk of gas leaks as they have the combination of old cast iron pipes and cold weather. Utility companies everywhere are concerned and ramping up efforts to make repairs to avoid more deadly gas explosions.
By Debra Pittman