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Cleanup Underway After Steam Pipe Explosion In Downtown Baltimore

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A massive clean up effort is underway in downtown Baltimore after a steam pipe explosion Tuesday evening.

An investigation is still underway one day after a steam pipe exploded on Eutaw Street between Lombard and Pratt Streets.

The Baltimore City Fire Department reported that five people were injured in the blast.

Steam billowed out of the crater created by the explosion for almost an hour, until Veolia North America emergency crews were able to shut off the steam supply to the affected area. They are now investigating the root of the problem.

Investigators said the steam was at an estimated 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rubble and debris was scattered over the area of South Eutaw Street, and dust and dirt covered nearby cars. Some residents have been unable to get their vehicles that were on the street with the explosion happened.

Workers continued to clean up the scene in hazmat suits and masks due to low levels of asbestos, but officials say the air quality testing has come back to normal.

“I wish I had known that, wonder why I’m standing here if there’s risk of asbestos,” Syl Sobel said .

“Asbestos is different, yeah that’s a little concerning sure. But, I’m sure it’ll be cleaned up and be fine,” Mike Batey said.

Jackson Cooper was walking near the blast and said it was terrifying.

“I looked behind us and there was this humongous cloud of smoke. My mom saw rubble flying everywhere and we didn’t know it was so we just ran,” he said. “It looks like it was a bomb.”

“I don’t feel we are in danger of steam pipes exploding all over the City. But we do have an issue as we well know as it relates to underground pipe systems,” said Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh.

“It could have been catastrophic. It could have had many many lives lost,” said Howard Schulman.

Veolia said they have sent a sample of the pipe to a third party for testing. They’re also reviewing operations and maintenance records both recent and historical on the pipe.

Eutaw Street remains closed. It’s unclear how long the block will remain closed.

Veolia released the following update:

We greatly appreciate the community’s patience as we clean up and repair the impacted area.  Today our crews focused on securing the site, beginning clean up activities,  and performing an environmental assessment.

UPDATE ON CLEAN UP
Our normal safety and environmental procedure is to perform environmental testing of the air, debris and mud after a steam release.  We do this because of the potential age of the steam pipe and possible use of asbestos insulation.

Air quality has come back normal; negative for any airborne pollutants.   However, we will continue to monitor air quality for the duration of the clean up.

Initial environmental testing at the site of the break indicates a low level asbestos reading.  We’re still awaiting results related to pollutants in the mud and debris in the affected area. Out of abundance of caution and in order to expedite the cleaning of the area, we’re treating the situation as a remediation action, which requires specialized cleaning techniques, until we can confirm the area is not contaminated. Cleaning and remediation of cars and doorways has begun.

Full cleanup and remediation of the site will likely take several days.  Any car owners or business owners with damaged property should contact Thomas J. Little, 262-785-4804, Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc.

UPDATE ON INVESTIGATION
Typical actions during this type of investigation may include the following steps:

  • Take a sample of the pipe and send to a third party expert for metallurgy evaluation, which takes 7-10 days complete.
  • Review operations actions related to this section of pipe, both recent and historical.
  • Review maintenance records and pipe performance in this area.

Once we understand the issue, we will take any necessary action based on the findings — mechanical or operational.   We are taking this matter very seriously. Once we determine the root cause, we will take corrective actions to avoid future instances.

We’re continuing to work with Office of Emergency Management, Fire Department and city officials to ensure a swift and safe resolution.

Facts about system:

  • Veolia acquired the system in 2007

  • 15 miles of steam line

  • Asbestos was commonly used as insulation in the past, and we do have direct buried piping that has asbestos insulation. It is standard industry practice to not disturb asbestos insulation unnecessarily. Veolia does remove asbestos insulation whenever maintenance is required.

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