Midtown steam pipe burst: Asbestos test results negative, cleanup underway

Midtown steam pipe burst that caused possible asbestos contamination
First responders arrived on the scene where the steam pipe burst on E. 52nd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.
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Preliminary test results for asbestos contamination came back negative following the Midtown steam pipe rupture on Wednesday morning that forced panicked locals to shelter in place. 

The pipe began leaking near East 52nd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues at around 2 a.m. on Dec. 27, and finally erupted at 5:30 a.m. — sending plumes of white water vapor into the air. There were no reported injuries, according to Mayor Eric Adams.

The blast sparked concerns about possible asbestos being thrown into the air. According to the mayor, preliminary air quality tests did not indicate the presence of the fibrous carcinogen, but nevertheless, the city is advising local residents to take precautions.

“We have been conducting air quality testing with Con Edison to determine whether there is any asbestos in the air,” Adams said. “Initial testing did not show elevated levels of asbestos. But out of an abundance of caution, Emergency Management has been providing N95 masks” to residents in the vicinity of the pipe burst.

The mayor also asked local residents to keep windows closed, and minimize pedestrian traffic, while the streets in the area are cleaned of debris.

Nearby buildings and parked cars were quickly covered in a layer of soot as the situation worsened throughout the early morning, until workers with Con Edison finally stopped the leaking vapor at around 6:45 a.m. 

Con Edison’s Vice President of Steam Operations Hugh Grant, told locals at the scene that they were monitoring the area for asbestos, and warned locals to stay away from the area. 

“Currently, there’s no active condition. We do have a potential asbestos release, so we are working closely with other agencies to ensure the safety of the public and our employees,” Grant said. 

Emergency responders with the city were seen handing out N95 medical masks, and NYPD officers closed off several blocks surrounding the location. 

“We want to let residents in the area know that we’re doing all that we can to take care of this, and expedite things,” said the city’s Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol. “But people should be staying clear of this area.”

Asbestos, a fire-resistant material, was typically used to cover pipes for years before science and medical experts determined it to be a serious carcinogen. If inhaled, asbestos fibers can cause serious health complications — including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

“There’s no reports of any victims that have been contaminated,” FDNY Chief Nick Corrado said at a briefing on the scene. “Right now, there are no reports of injuries or people contaminated.”

Meanwhile, several nearby buildings were left without steam service as Con Edison shuttered operations of surrounding pipelines.