As Con Edison Steam Pipe Explosion Probe Begins, Some Question Whether Utility Can Be Trusted To Investigate Itself

Con Edison will begin its probe today into the July 18 <"">New York City steam pipe explosion that left 1 person dead and 40 others injured. The utility announced the start of its investigation at a news conference yesterday where the 20-inch ruptured pipe was put on display. But even as the investigation commenced, a lawyer representing victims of the blast raised doubts that Con Edison’s eventual findings could be trusted.

The pipe, part of a 105-mile network that Con Edison uses to heat and cool Manhattan buildings, had burst lengthwise. A 5 1/2-foot long gash ran along the side of the pipe. It was through this gash that a geyser of hot vapor, mud and asbestos shot hundreds of feet into the air on the day of the blast. Con Edison said that the news conference would be the last time the pipe would be displayed publicly.

Con Edison has hired the engineering firm Lucius Pitkin to head the investigation into the steam pipe explosion. At the news conference, Ronald Bozgo, vice president for steam pipe operations at Con Edison said that it was obvious something extraordinary had occurred when the pipe exploded. “Steam pipes don’t typically burst,” Bozgo said. “You never see anything as violent as this.”

Bozgo said that the investigation into the blast would involve several facets. Ultrasound equipment will be used to test both the pipe and the steam trap under the street. Other studies will use computer generated images to compare the blast crater to the site prior to the explosion. Bozgo said that it will be several months before the cause of the explosion is known.

But not everyone trusts Con Edison to do a thorough investigation of the steam pipe explosion. Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer representing two people burned during the explosion attended yesterday’s news conference. Thompson told the New York Times that he fears the utility will try to blame the blast on a leaking water main owned by the city. According to the New York Times, parts of that water main were shown to Thompson and others prior to the news conference, but removed before the media was admitted.

Thompson represents George McCullough, 21, and Judith Baily, 30. Both were injured after the tow truck they were in was swallowed up by the crater created when the steam pipe exploded. McCullough suffered burns over 80-percent of his body. Baily was burned over 30-percent of her body. McCullough’s family and Baily sued Con Edison for the injuries they sustained in the steam pipe explosion. Already, McCullough’s medical bills have exceeded $1 million. The lawsuit alleges that Con Edison did not properly maintain its network of steam pipes that run under Manhattan. At least three other lawsuits have been filed as a result of the explosion.

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