Several buildings remain closed and dozens of residents displaced days after an 86-year-old, asbestos-lined steam pipe exploded in the heart of New York City sending a toxic steam cloud over the city and raising concerns that carcinogenic asbestos fibers may have blown several stories into buildings and air conditioners, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Officials said that the air around the explosion site appears to be safe, but debris on the ground tested positive for asbestos.

The explosion, which occurred early on the morning of July 19, blew a 15-foot crater in Fifth Avenue near 21st Street, and cast a steam cloud over Manhattan that lingered for hours. Of the 49 buildings evacuated, 28 are considered in the “hot zone.” About 500 people were displaced from about 250 apartment units within those buildings.

Asbestos is a fire resistant mineral that was widely used in building materials and insulation until the 1980s. If undisturbed, asbestos poses no threat. But if asbestos is disturbed, its microscopic fibers can float in the air for days. If inhaled or swallowed, the fibers can become lodged in the lining of the lungs or other internal organs and lead to the incurable lung disease asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer. The damage caused by asbestos exposure can take as many as five decades to develop.

Individuals who live in the 28 buildings within the “hot zone” will not be allowed to return to their homes – except for emergency needs – until the buildings are thoroughly assessed for the presence of asbestos. The 21 other buildings that were evacuated will also be inspected, but de Blasio said it is unlikely asbestos is there.

In addition to affecting residences, the blast shut down several retail businesses. Cleanup crews worked through the weekend and some buildings were reopened. But as of Monday, many businesses and residences remain inaccessible. Con Ed is offering residents a $500 reimbursement for their inconvenience, but says those affected can submit claims for additional expenses.

People who live or work in the area of the explosion were advised keep their windows closed until clean-up is completed and to set window air conditioners to re-circulate indoor air.

The cause of the blast remains under investigation.

NBC New York
New York Post

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