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East Harlem Building Collapse Highlights America’s Dangerously Old Gas Infrastructure

The deadly explosion in Harlem the other week was said to be caused by a leak in a gas pipe, one part of the nation’s enormous and aging gas system.
The leak lead to 8 deaths and injuries in dozens. How old the pipe was and how the leak started remain unclear. Some academics, however, say it is clear that much of America’s aging gas infrastructure needs to be replaced, regardless of the Harlem incident.
“American’s use of natural gas goes back to the early 1900s, and some of the pipes funneling gas beneath city streets today go back that long, too. More than 6,000 miles of pipe run through New York’s five boroughs, carrying the natural gas that in turn provides 65% of the heat used by city residents. And the average age of that pipe, according to a report from the Center for an Urban Future, is 56 years old, much of it made of old materials that are more prone to leaks.”
The system has infrastructure that was in tis time state-of-the-art, but it is no longer. Cast iron pipes used in the twenties are more brittle, producing potential for cracking to occur. Early steel pipes, meanwhile, are more prone to corrosion. About half the pipeline in New York is cast iron or unprotected steel, which were designed to last 100 years.
Earlier this year, the journal of Environmental Science and Technology conducted a study on gas leaks in Washington D.C. The study found nearly 6,000 leaks over 1,500 miles of road, including dozens of potentially explosive pockets gathered in manholes. “Pockets of natural gas generally need an enclosed space in which to build before they become explosive, which happens when the methane makes up about 5% of the air mixture.” According to the study, incidents involving natural gas pipelines still lead to about 17 deaths and $133 million in property damage each year.
Read more on this article from Time.com