Could NYC gas leak explosion happen in D.C.?

WASHINGTON – Washington, D.C. has a significant number of natural gas leaks, and the issue is getting new attention after a massive explosion in New York City.

Investigators are looking at the possibility a 125-year-old gas pipe contributed to the deadly blast in Harlem, which destroyed two five-story apartment buildings. Old, cast iron gas pipes are a problem in New York City — and in the nation’s capital.

“From our work across D.C. and Boston, the number-one predictor of natural gas leaks is old piping,” because it can corrode and crack, says Rob Jackson, a professor at Duke and Stanford universities.

“Surprisingly, about a third of Washington, D.C.’s pipelines are made of cast iron.”

This means they could be up to 75 or 100 years old.

In a study released in January, Jackson and others mapped 5,893 natural gas leaks in the District. The researchers also found potentially explosive concentrations of gas in 12 manholes. Jackson says they notified Washington Gas, but another round of testing months later found that dangerous conditions remained at eight locations. “That was a real surprise to me,” says Jackson.

In an email to WTOP, a Washington Gas spokesman said the company “immediately responded to each of the identified leaks.”

D.C. firefighters, meanwhile, fielded 1,700 calls for gas odors last year, or about five calls per day, according to numbers from the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.

Jackson says he plans to return to D.C. to test the sites again in the coming months. He believes many utilities want to overhaul aging systems, but would likely have to raise rates.

“The companies are limited by the public utility commissions


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