Two National Grid Utility contract employees were injured recently when a gas line exploded on Bay Ridge Parkway near 19th Ave. in Bensonhurst. The accident happened just before 10 a.m. when the workers were in an underground hole checking for a leak. The conflagration forced them back to street level, both suffering severe burns.
One worker’s face was bleeding, and according to witness Olga Zborovkaya, he was screaming, “I don’t know what happened! I don’t know what happened!” The other was able to put the fire out on his clothing by rolling on the ground and removing his jacket, sources say.
“They were in a panic, and they were taking their clothes off,” said Rilind Gjonabalaj, 29. said.
Both workers were taken to the burn unit at Staten Island University Hospital North in serious condition.
The explosion rocked the neighborhood, and residents came into the street in fear of gas leaks in their homes. A fire raged from the hole for hours after the explosion, and the stench of smoke remained in the air long after the fire was finally out. Businesses in the area had to evacuate, too.
“We were scared. We got out into the streets with the kids. We took all the pets,” a resident reported. Con Edison representatives came to the site and began checking homes personally for other leaks. About 25 residents were without service until it was safe to return home.
Gas leaks are not new in New York. In mid-2019, the City Council held hearings about requiring the city to search out leaks and then requiring Con Ed to fix them. The utility responded that they routinely check 4,300 miles of gas mains every month for leaks throughout the city.
In response, a local TV station decided to conduct their own checks. They used the services of a gas safety expert and quickly found leaks that weren’t showing on the city’s map of identified leaks.
“What I see is leak after leak,” said Bob Ackley of Gas Safety USA. “If you hunt around, you’ll find them.”
Con Ed disagrees, saying that some of the leaks Ackley is finding are low-level leaks with no need for repair. The utility reports they are spending $500 million replacing 95 miles of old gas lines each year and have developed systems for near-real-time alerts and warnings for their customers. They began using 9,000 battery-powered natural gas detectors on its smart meter network in 2018, allowing the company to rapidly locate leaks and alert its emergency crews.
Con Ed serves more than 9 million people in New York City and Westchester County, New York. They said that City Council’s call to hire an independent company to search for leaks on a regular basis would add tens of millions of dollars to utility rates for taxpayers.
While it appears that the problem of leaks is being addressed by city officials, losses and injuries are still happening. Residents who have suffered due to gas leaks may find help by consulting an attorney.
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