5 people suffered personal injury in a steam pipe explosion in Manhattan last Thursday. The injuries were minor but nearby tenants were worried about the effect of possible asbestos exposure as the explosion produced a thick geyser of white smoke and debris that contained asbestos. The pipe that exploded was installed in 1932 at a time when asbestos was used as a component for the thermal insulation around the pipe. It was banned in the 1970 after studies demonstrated that exposure to the substance could lead to serious health problems including lung cancer.
In the afternoon following the explosion Mayor de Blasio confirmed that the steam line pipe was contaminated with asbestos and that authorities were concerned about whether any debris entered into buildings or into air conditioning systems. Streets were closed to the public around the explosion area on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Flatiron district and 49 buildings were evacuated so that the area could be fully decontaminated.
According to Dr. Norman Edelman, a pulmonologist interviewed by the New York Times, the health risk associated with a one time exposure to asbestos are minimal. Its chronic exposure, over years or decade that is the real danger.
Massive decontamination work still ongoing
Among the 500 people who were displaced following the explosion, many of them were still not authorized to get back to their home or businesses as decontamination teams were continuing to clean up the area. Asbestos cleaning is a very slow and painstaking project. Swab tests have to be effectuated on building surfaces and if any of them are contaminated with asbestos, the Department of Environmental Protection has to seal the area before proceeding to decontamination. Carpets and upholstery may have to be removed and destroyed.
So far 9 buildings have been cleared for occupancy and more buildings were set to reopen on Monday.