Steam pipe explosion

Marla Diamond/WCBS 880

Decontamination Showers, Paper Suits For Those Caught In Flatiron Steam Pipe Explosion Zone

July 19, 2018 - 12:28 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron District Thursday morning sent a shower of gritty gunk coming down on everything and everyone below – forcing the FDNY to bring people in for decontamination.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams among those who had to be contaminated.

PHOTOS: Flatiron Steam Pipe Explosion

The high-pressure steam main installed in 1932 ruptured with "volcanic force" at 6:40 a.m. at Fifth Avenue at 21st Street.

Adams told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that initially, the explosion just launched everything up and it did not look like anything was coming back down. But the wind shifted, and that all changed.

“That dark, ominous column of vapor started to move in our direction, and as it did, I was reporting live on the radio, and so I was looking at what I was describing, and then I started to feel on the back of my neck moisture droplets,” he said.

Adams said given that a steam pipe had burst, the presence of condensation made sense. But there was a lot more than that coming down.

“Then when I looked down, I was covered. It was almost, kind of resembled – it was brown in color, but it had like the feel almost of ash, but it was also very gritty. You know, I started to get some of it in my mouth, and, you know, in the eyes, and once I realized that, you know, my equipment and everything was being encrusted in this material,” he said.

Sean Adams' Vehicle After Flatiron District Steam Pipe Explosion
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Adams grabbed everything and retreated. He is a survivor of the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and does not want to be exposed to any such substances again.

There are concerns about asbestos in the area. But fortunately, the FDNY was all ready with a mobile shower unit.

“They have a red tent, and there are showers inside. But first, the firefighters lined up. I lined up with them. First, they make us stand in a basin of water, sit on a stool. Firefighters in full gear with respirators on – they have brushes with long handles. They scrub the boots, rinse them off with a little hose, hose down the clothing, then you strip off the clothing, put the clothing in a plastic bag. That clothing will just be thrown away. And then you go into the tent. You shower. You rinse off the best you can. You come out the other side,” Adams said.

On the other side, a medic checked Adams’ vital signs to make sure his pulse rate was OK, and gave him a paper suit while placing his personal belongings in a bag.

“It’s like one of those things you’d get at Home Depot if you were going to, let’s say, be removing asbestos, or, you know, doing some, you know, work with fiberglass insulation. It’s just one of those paper suits. It’s a jumpsuit – little booties, and you zip it up, and I don’t stand out too much in New York City,” Adams said.

Sean Adams In Paper Suit
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

The decontamination zones have been set up at 22nd and 19th Streets.

"Anyone who feels they were affected by this and possibly contaminated can report there for evaluation," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. 

Meanwhile, Con Edison crews are advising residents in the area to bag their clothing and take a shower as a precaution due to possible asbestos exposure.

"If anyone is near the area we would caution them to stay clear, if you were there when it first happened or while it was happening we would advise you to bag your clothing, take a shower and this is all in precaution of possible asbestos contamination," Con Edison Assistant Director of Media Relations Philip O'Brien told WCBS 880. "As a precaution we just advise anyone who might've been there at the moment that it happened or immediately after to take some precautions."

Nigro said they are awaiting lab results but are operating as if the samples will come back positive.

"Approximately 100 of our fire department members will require decontamination, other members who have operated here may also require it as well as some civilians," Nigro said.

Buildings between 20th and 22nd streets have been evacuated. Nigro said he doesn't expect the area to be open Thursday afternoon.