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Crumbling Gas Lines: Not Just a New York Problem

PHOTO: The recent explosion and fire that destroyed part of a city block and left two men dead in downtown Manhattan has raised new concerns about the health of New York's aging gas pipelines. But the problem could extend well beyond the city's borders. Photo credit: editrixie/CC.
PHOTO: The recent explosion and fire that destroyed part of a city block and left two men dead in downtown Manhattan has raised new concerns about the health of New York's aging gas pipelines. But the problem could extend well beyond the city's borders. Photo credit: editrixie/CC.
April 8, 2015

NEW YORK - The recent explosion and fire that destroyed part of a city block and left two men dead in downtown Manhattan has raised new concerns about the health of New York's aging gas pipelines. But the problem could extend well beyond the city's borders.

Adam Forman, research associate for the Center for an Urban Future, said feeble gas systems pose safety risks in cities throughout the state and region.

"Other major cities, like Boston and Philadelphia, suffer from really old infrastructure," he said. "This is something that's kind of endemic to the Northeast, and something where a lot of progress needs to be made going forward."

Three buildings in Manhattan's East Village caught fire and collapsed last month, and a similar explosion and fire killed eight people and destroyed two buildings in Harlem last spring. Official investigations point to gas leaks as the cause.

According to the Center for an Urban Future, more than half of New York's gas lines were installed before 1960 and some have fallen apart from corrosion and improper maintenance. While companies such as National Grid and Con Edison have made upgrades that have reduced leaks, Forman said, there's only so much they can do on their own.

"The last 100 feet of every service delivery ends inside the building," he said. "So, we can't just think about these big companies - we need to think about the building owners, the installers, the contractors, the unions as well, and how all these stakeholders play a role in making sure that our services are delivered efficiently and safely."

The group estimated that New York experiences nearly 10,000 gas leaks per year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has convened a working group that includes major utilities and regulators to focus on improving the city's gas infrastructure.

Derek Hawkins, Public News Service - NY