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Con Edison Has Few Answers in Steam Pipe Explosion

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A discussion over last month’s Con Edison steam pipe explosion in New York City turned heated at times during a hearing of the City Council’ Committee on Consumer Affairs. Council members expressed disappointment, and sometimes anger, as a representative from the utility was unable to answer many of their questions.

William Longhi, a senior vice president at Con Edison, told the assembled council members that it would be at least two months before the company would be able to say what caused the July 18 explosion. The Con Edison steam pipe explosion left one woman dead from a heart attack, and many more people injured. Businesses in the area were damaged, and many had to close while clean-up of the explosion site took place. Some establishments in the area were only able to open this week.

Longhi’s refusal to speculate on the cause of the steam pipe explosion angered some council members. Daniel Garodnick, whose district includes Lexington Avenue and 41st Street where the blast occurred, was frustrated that Longhi did not have answers to questions City Council had sent Con Edison when it first scheduled the meeting. In fact, Garodnick had to ask Longhi several times what the average age of steam pipes where in New York City. Longhi finally answered that most were 54 years old, but that others were closer to 100 years old. The steam pipe that burst on July 18 was 84 years old.

Other council members expressed dismay that Kevin Burke, CEO of Con Edison, did not attend the hearing. Longhi said that he was chosen to address city council because he had more technical expertise. That answer did not satisfy the council, with one member terming Burke’s absence a “slap in the face”.

Another council member, Peter Vallone, Jr. asked Longhi if the utility would be paying business owners for lost revenues in addition to damages. Business owners in the area have lost millions as a result of the steam pipe explosion, and held a news conference last month pleading with Con Edison to help them recover their losses. But if the council meeting was any indication, those owners should not count on much from Con Edison. Longhi said that no utility in the country reimbursed businesses for lost revenue.

In other developments, a tow truck driver and his passenger have sued Con Edison for the injuries they sustained in the steam pipe explosion. George McCullough, 21, and Judith Bailey, 30, were in the tow truck when it was swallowed up by the crater formed during the blast. Both were engulfed in 200-degree vapor that left them with severe burns. McCullough suffered third degree burns to 80-percent of his body and is in a medically induced coma to control his pain. Already, McCullough’s medical bills have exceeded $1 million. Bailey, the single mother of two children, was burned over 30 percent of her body. She is expected to be released from the hospital this week.

Their lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, and accuses Con Edison of failing to maintain the 105-year-old steam pipe network that was responsible for the explosion. The complaint calls the network, which Con Edison uses to heat and cool Manhattan buildings, a “ticking time bomb” and alleges that 12 steam pipes in the system have exploded since 1987.

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