Asbestos Clean-Up Continues in Manhattan
It’s been nearly a week since a steam pipe exploded at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, but the sight of police officers wearing protective masks is still a common one and will likely be for at least a few more days, officials say.
According to a New York Times article, Fifth Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street is still closed to pedestrian traffic, and access to 20th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is restricted. Bus service along busy Fifth Avenue, a major Manhattan thoroughfare, was restored on Monday.
So far, the Emergency Management Department reports that they have washed the exteriors of all buildings in the three-block area that has been dubbed “the hot zone.”
However, there’s still lots of work to be done in regards to inspecting and monitoring the interior of many of those structures, the department reports. Many workers in that area remain idle and some of them are losing pay because of the incident.
Nancy Silvestri, a spokesperson for the department, told the media that she believes the remainder of the clean-up will occupy at least a few more days and perhaps take as long as until the end of the week.
In the meantime, the Times did some investigative work as to the extent of the asbestos contained in steam pipes city-wide. The answers will likely startle many readers.
“We would rationalize that most of the 104 miles of transmission pipe that make up our steam distribution system would contain asbestos,” said Philip O’Brien, a spokesman for Con Edison.
But that system only operates in Manhattan below 96th Street to the Battery on the West Side and below 86th Street to downtown on the East Side, he added.
O’Brien explained that the age of New York City’s infrastructure has a lot to do with the fact that asbestos is so rampant.
The first underground steam pipes were installed in the city in 1882 and asbestos may have been used back then but, if not, the toxic material was certainly used after the turn of the 20th century.
Though asbestos use was phased out in the 1980s, utility companies did not generally make it a rule to replace old asbestos. Hence, much of it still remains.
But O’Brien adds that those facts shouldn’t be cause for concern. The asbestos in question is usually undisturbed except when an explosion like the one last week occurs.
“The way the infrastructure is designed, it is underground in its own casing and not subject to much, if any, disturbance,” he added.
“You don’t want to disturb the asbestos, once you know it’s there, because it may be released into the air. So, you leave it there so that it stays contained.”