As Stories Of Injuries, Near-Misses Mount, City Councilman Demands Answers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There is a demand for an investigation into what has become a plague in New York City this winter — exploding manholes that have put the public in danger, even sending some people to the hospital.

The explosions have been a scary side effect of a bad winter, often caused by salt poured on city streets to melt ice getting into cracks in cables. The resulting explosions have injured passersby and shocked others. There were 2,100 explosions in 2014 and more than 1,000 so far in 2015, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

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“This time of year, as you know with salt being spread on the streets, we see manhole fires and they become very common. But just because they’re common, they’re not without consequence,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told 1010 WINS.

In Park Slope last month a car exploded. Jacob Loban caught the incident on video.

“It was pretty amazing to see. It was just smoke under the hood spread back to the front of the car. The windows popped, the tires popped,” Loban said.

With Con Edison reporting 600 explosions in the first week of February alone, City Councilman Donovan Richards, the chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, is demanding answers.

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“The recent uptick in explosions, fires and other manhole-related incidents is simply unacceptable,” Richards said. “Allowing vital infrastructure to fall into a state of disrepair, where it poses a threat to the lives of New Yorkers, cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.”

Councilman Richards said he wants Con Ed to explore the possibility of chains and locks to keep the manhole covers from flying into the air.

The utility told Kramer that’s a bad idea.

“Many people have proposed similar things like that before, but it really wouldn’t be safe,” Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said. “Manhole (covers) could shatter, which would be almost like shrapnel.”

What Con Ed is doing is installing manhole covers with grates. It doesn’t stop the fire, but it allows smoke to get out without an explosion. The utility has already installed 100,000, but it has 150,000 more to go. At a rate of 10,000 a year, it could take another decade to install them all, Kramer reported.

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The big worry is next week when temperatures are expected to warm up, causing melted ice and snow to pour into manholes. Councilman Richards said he intends to hold public hearings.