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Con Ed's Manhole Covers Exploding All Over NYC

New York City is a dangerous place to be in the winter, especially this winter when shocking measurements of snow have been falling all over the city. It’s not just that the temperatures are cold or that traffic accidents are more common. No, New York City residents have something much stranger to worry about right now - exploding manhole covers!

New York City electric company Con Ed reports that there have been more than five dozen incidents of manhole covers exploding in 2011 so far. Some serious examples of how this problem is threatening the people of New York City include:

- "A huge fireball erupted from a manhole cover, and the sewer beneath, and completely engulfed an
   SUV parked over it." (source)

- A 15-foot skewer of flames exploded out of a manhole in the West Village of Manhattan.

- "A pair of East Harlem manhole fires spiked carbon monoxide levels at the Shield Institute, a center
   for people with developmental disabilities, forcing an evacuation and closing several blocks. Some
   75 handicapped clients waited it out on buses before being transferred to another facility." (source)

This is a particularly big problem in 2011 but it’s not a new problem. In 2008 a 26-year-old Con Edo worker was killed in one of these manhole cover explosions. (source) In fact, Con Ed representatives have been quoted as saying that this is a winter problem that happens every year. They explain that the salt used to melt ice on the roads runs into the sewers, hits a utility box or a corroded underground cable and BOOM.

Con Ed has plans in the works to prevent the problem from happening as frequently in the future. The utility company is working on replacing all of their solid manhole covers to vented covers, which would allow gases to escape from the sewer and reduce the likelihood of serious explosions. This is nice, but it brings up two important questions:

1. Why wasn’t this issue dealt with sooner? If it’s an ongoing problem then why didn’t ConEd replace
    those dangerous manhole covers before now?

2. Who is paying for these replacements? Everyone knows that increased costs for a utility company
    often result in the company requesting rate hikes in the future to limit the impact of expenses on
    their profit margins. Con Ed customers are already paying more than New York electricity
    consumers who use other low-cost NY electricity suppliers. Let’s hope that the costs of these
    repairs don’t get passed on to them!


Publish Date: 2011-02-18 11:03:42

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