An asbestos accident caused by a steam pipe explosion in downtown Baltimore resulted in the scattering of large amounts of rubble and debris, including that which contained dangerous asbestos.
WJZ-Baltimore, the local CBS station, reported that an investigation and clean-up was still underway at the location of Wednesday’s blast, which startled those in the area of Eutaw Street (between Lombard and Pratt Sts.) and injured 5 people who were standing nearby when the explosion occurred.
The fire department reports that steam billowed from the crater the explosion created for at least an hour after the blast occurred. Emergency crews were eventually able to turn off the steam and the company that manages the pipe system says they are still investigating the root of the problem.
In the meantime, clean-up crews say that dust and dirt covered nearby cars and that some of that dust included asbestos fibers, likely from the pipe insulation used for Baltimore City underground systems.
Workers arrived on the scene in hazmat suits and masks, intent on avoiding the inhalation of any asbestos fibers. Those without protection were advised to avoid the scene until clean-up was complete.
“I wish I had known that, wonder why I’m standing here if there’s risk of asbestos,” said bystander Syl Sobel.
“Asbestos is different, yeah, that’s a little concerning sure. But, I’m sure it’ll be cleaned up and be fine,” Mike Batey, another local resident, added.
Jackson Cooper was walking near the blast and said it was terrifying as he immediately suspected terrorism, not simply a pipe explosion.
“I looked behind us and there was this humongous cloud of smoke. My mom saw rubble flying everywhere and we didn’t know it was so we just ran,” he said.
“It looks like it was a bomb.”
Still, such occurrences do indeed present dangers to those in the vicinity. When asbestos material is involved in an explosion and dust becomes airborne, it’s possible for inhalation of tiny asbestos particles to occur and for people to eventually get sick because of even that small amount of exposure.
In the meantime, city officials released this statement about their procedures for dealing with asbestos:
“Our normal safety and environmental procedure is to perform environmental testing of the air, debris and mud after a steam release. We do this because of the potential age of the steam pipe and possible use of asbestos insulation.
Air quality has come back normal; negative for any airborne pollutants. However, we will continue to monitor air quality for the duration of the clean-up.
Initial environmental testing at the site of the break indicates a low-level asbestos reading. We’re still awaiting results related to pollutants in the mud and debris in the affected area.
Out of abundance of caution and in order to expedite the cleaning of the area, we’re treating the situation as a remediation action, which requires specialized cleaning techniques, until we can confirm the area is not contaminated.”