Water Main Break Puts New Yorkers At Risk For Asbestos Exposure

As New Yorkers made their way to work on Tuesday, May 20th, they more than likely noticed the surge of water gushing from broken, 85 year old pipes beneath the Fortunoff Store on 57th Street. Con Edison workers hurried to contain the water and repair the pipes, but the water main break caused traffic problems during the morning commute in what is considered to be one of Manhattan’s busiest areas.

Officials tested a small mud sample from 57th Street after the water main break and determined that the water contained traces of asbestos. Asbestos has been linked to the development of pleural mesothelioma, a deadly cancer affecting the lungs. Subsequent tests determined that no other samples tested positive for asbestos. Con Edison workers surmised that the intense gushing of the water may have extricated pipe wrapping that contained asbestos, thus releasing it into the water. Asbestos-containing structural materials, such as pipe wrapping, were widely used in construction prior to 1980, when the use of asbestos was banned in the United States. However, hundreds of miles of subterranean piping throughout New York City most likely contain significant levels of asbestos, putting clean up personnel and city dwellers at risk in the event of a disaster.

The Fortunoff store was closed Tuesday due to flooding and concerns that the 100 gallons of stagnant water inside the building may put employees at risk for asbestos exposure. However, as clean up efforts wrapped up on Tuesday evening, City Department of Environmental Protection officials declared that no one had been at great risk after the break. In addition, the water main break was found to have caused no structural damage, as city officials had feared initially. Con Edison workers washed the street thoroughly and air-monitoring equipment was left in place for continued monitoring of air quality. According to authorities, in the event that the equipment detected traces of asbestos in the air, final clean up efforts would have been suspended and appropriate precautionary methods would have been implemented.

Leave a Reply