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NTSB CONCLUDES WHAT CAUSED THE HARLEM GAS EXPLOSION AND FIRE

On June 9, 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its accident report on the March 12, 2014 gas explosion that demolished two East Harlem buildings, killed eight persons and injured at least 70 others. According to the report, the probable cause of the explosion was:

  • A defective fusion joint at the service tee, installed by Con Ed in 2011, that allowed natural gas to leak from the gas main and migrate into the building where it ignited.
  • A breach in the sewer line that went unrepaired since at least 2006 that allowed groundwater and soil to flow into the sewer, resulting in a loss of support for the gas main, which caused the line to sag and overstressed the defective fusion joint.

Pertinent findings in the report include:

  • Soil displacement around and below the gas main was not sufficient to cause the defect in the service tee that released the gas.
  • The defect to the service tee likely occurred in 2011, when surfaces of the service tee and the gas main were not adequately prepared before the tee was fusion welded to the gas main.
  • Stresses created by the sagging gas main opened a crack in the defective service tee, allowing natural gas to escape underground and migrate into 1644 Park Avenue.

The report also highlights the need for coordination between agencies and the public, including the public's use of 911 emergency services:

  • Had Con Ed received a report of the gas odor on the evening of March 11, it likely would have found the gas leak and taken appropriate corrective actions to prevent the accident.
  • Had Con Ed notified FDNY at 9:14 a.m., when the call from the customer service representative ended, FDNY responders likely could have arrived at the gas leak location up to 15 minutes before the explosion; it is unclear, however, whether the emergency responders could have safely evacuated two five-story buildings that were not equipped with elevators or fire alarm systems.
  • Had Con Ed installed appropriately located isolation valves on the gas distribution main, the leaking gas main could have been isolated sooner after the explosion, minimizing the danger to the responders and the delay in recovery operations.
  • The Con Ed public awareness and education programs did not effectively inform customers and the public about both the importance of reporting a gas odor and the number to call to report a gas odor.

The personal injury attorneys at Rubin & Licatesi, P.C. want you and your family to be safe. If you detect gas, leave the premises immediately, taking others with you. If you or a loved one has sustained injuries in a gas explosion or fire, call us at 516-227-2662 or contact our Brooklyn office online.

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