Air asbestos free, city says, but evacuated buildings still off limits

July26 Con Ed cleanup

A Con Ed crew cleaning up the street on Friday (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

The air is asbestos-free, the city said, after testing samples following the steam pipe explosion, on Friday evening. While some debris samples contained asbestos, it’s unlikely people exposed will become ill since “asbestos-related illnesses usually develop after many years of exposure,” according to an update provided by the mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management. The city also said irritation to the eyes, nose and throat from debris is possible, and recommends anyone with those symptoms contact doctor.

Meanwhile, the city is still keeping people out of the “hot zone” in Flatiron.

While the area continues to be cleaned up, the hot zone boundaries include:

  • Fifth Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street (midway down the block on 19th Street and most of 20th and 21st streets on the west side).
  • The entire block on East 20th and 21st Streets and midway down the block on East 19th Street.

Neighborhood residents whose building have been evacuated (49 buildings in total) are still displaced. Forty-four buildings had their facades visually expected. However, none were cleared for residents to return home as of Friday at 5 p.m. as testing for asbestos continues. At this time, the city doesn’t have a number as to how many buildings have been contaminated. Once a determination is made, the buildings’ facades will be washed. Con Ed has appointed outside vendors for this project.

Con Ed said the work will take place over the weekend, as well as cleanup of the streets near Fifth Avenue and 21st Street. The company has restored steam service to 11 of the 27 buildings that lost service due to the rupture. Five buildings in the immediate vicinity have no gas service.

The Health Department has also said all restaurants in the affected area should remain closed until further notice. Representatives from the Department of Small Business Services will be available to speak with local business owners at the informational booths the city has set up and they will be available to speak with throughout the weekend from noon-3 p.m. each day. 

Department of Health employees will also be present during this time. 

The booths/reception centers themselves will remain open, manned by Con Ed personnel, to answer questions from residents in the immediate area at the Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They will be there from 10 a.m. until closing to help displaced residents in need of financial assistance.

Near 19th Street and Broadway and near 22nd Street and Broadway, Con Edison personnel will be at these two locations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting. They will be accepting bagged clothing and claim forms from people wearing them at the time of the explosion.

The following full street closures are still in effect:

West 20th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue

West 21st Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue

Partial closures: North side of West 19th Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue is partially closed. (The city says it is working to open this street soon.)

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