Gas Explosion: Springfield Recovers as State Investigation Begins

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said human error is to blame for the massive gas explosion in Springfield which injured 21 people, damaged three dozen buildings and leveled a night club.

The explosion at Scores Gentlemen’s Club on Worthington Street ignited Friday after Columbia Gas of Massachusetts sent crews to investigate a report of a gas odor. One worker accidentally punctured a gas line at the foundation of the building with a metal probing tool. The company said there were older gas line markings on the nearby sidewalk which were incorrect.

State and local officials held a press conference Sunday and announced Columbia Gas had performed a block-by-block investigation of the area and determined the city’s gas systems are now safe and functioning.

Coan said they have determined the source of the fuel and activities which led to the gas explosion. He said the state Department of Public Utilities will continue the investigation into Columbia Gas related to their response to the incident.

Coan said investigators have not determined the source of the initial odor and may not be able to now that the building is no longer standing. But he said there was no leak of gas from the main in the street.

“We have determined that human error, as opposed to a fault in the gas infrastructure, is what the cause of the explosion was,” he said.

He also said there were too many possible ignition sources inside the multi-story building to identify what had triggered the gas explosion.

Those sent to the hospital include 12 of the 14 Springfield firefighters who initially responded. All have been released. News reports say others injured include gas workers, a water and sewer worker and a local TV cameraman.

Today, residents and business owners gathered at Springfield City Hall carrying lists of lost personal belongings and damaged property. Columbia Gas has promised to cover the expenses, city officials say.

Springfield explosion cause: ‘Human error,’ Massachusetts fire marshal says, The Republican.

Raw Video: Springfield Gas Explosion, The Boston Globe.
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Gas Explosions: More than 3,300 Gas Leaks in Boston

fire.jpgThere are more than 3,300 natural gas leaks in Boston’s aging underground pipelines, a new Boston University study has found. Six areas had gas levels which exceeded the amount needed to trigger a gas explosion.

Those gas leaks were repaired while no action has been taken on the others, which the state Department of Public Utilities and gas companies described as a small risk for gas explosions. Dorchester had the largest number of gas leaks, 951 breaks over 158 miles of cast-iron gas mains. However, several areas had a greater number of leaks per mile, including East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Brighton, Charlestown and South Boston.

The study into gas leaks and explosion risks was conducted by an associated professor from Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment and a researcher from Duke University. It was recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution and reported on by the Boston Globe.

The two researchers drove all 785 miles of Boston’s streets to test the air for methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas. The two measured for methane levels which exceeded 2 parts per million – the normal amount in the air.

Natural gas is colorless and odorless, but uses the chemical additive mercaptan which emits a distinct rotten eggs odor to signal a leak. Gas leaks can occur in several ways, often when underground pipes crack as they age or in cold weather or when a pipe is struck by construction equipment.

Some people want to hold gas companies more accountable for fixing gas leaks in Massachusetts. A bill sponsored by state Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marlbehead would require a timeline for fixing the most serious leaks. Utilities would be required to notify police and fire of the gas leak locations. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives in June and is now before the state Senate.

The Conservation Law Foundation plans to release a report on natural gas leaks soon. An official suggested the state could require timelines for gas companies to repair various grades of leaks and improve accelerated reimbursement rates for gas companies that replace old gas lines.


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