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NYC Steam Explosion Exposes National Infrastructure Risks

July 20, 2007

Wednesday's steam pipe explosion in New York City has left behind a cloud of debris, asbestos, and uncertainty about the reliability of the nation's aging infrastructure. Laura Haight with the New York Public Interest Research Group says exposure to asbestos dust is one of the big problems, and cleanup workers face the greatest risk.

"Asbestos can cause cancer because of ongoing exposure - it's not usually a one-time thing. So, the workers are going to be facing the biggest risks here."

During a similar steam pipe explosion in 1989, Con-Edison withheld public information about asbestos release for several days, but the power provider promptly admitted the possibility of asbestos this time - its third steam explosion in the past 10 years.

For those exposed to the pipeline eruption, Con-Ed recommends showers and discarding clothes in plastic bags. Haight wants the public to have the maximum information on the health and environmental risks of the explosion, even if the early data is uncertain.

"As the city's infrastructure becomes more and more antiquated, the people are at more risk. So, it would be good to see a two-pronged strategy here: one being preventative maintenance; and the second being rapid response, and taking strong action to protect public health."

Washington, DC environmental attorney Jennifer Chavez believes the New York steam explosion is the tip of a national iceberg.

"Cities tend to be behind in terms of maintaining their infrastructure. So, I think making sure the infrastructure that we have in place is running properly and it's not causing citizens to become ill or endangered should be a high priority."

Robert Knight/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY