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Officials rip Con Ed over blast report

The combination created a momentary force against the pipe's wall that was seven times normal operating pressure, according to the report.But western Queens elected officials, who previously blasted Con Ed for its performance during the 10-day borough blackout in July 2006, said the utility needed to take responsibility for the incident."Of course, they are at fault as they were for the blackout, stray voltage and every other life-threatening incident that came before," Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said. "These tragedies will continue until someone is held responsible and that is yet to happen."In a statement, the utility said it has learned from the incident."The steam incident in July has no connection whatsoever with any electrical outage or gas incidents in Queens," the statement read.The blast, which occurred on July 18 at East 41st Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, caused one woman to have a fatal heart attack, injured 26 others, disrupted subway service for several hours and spread asbestos contamination in the area near the explosion.Several lawsuits have been brought against the utility over the blast, including one by Manhattan dentist Bruce Haber, who is suing Con Ed for $5 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages after his office was forced to close for nearly two weeks after the explosion, said Alan Schnurman, his attorney. The family of Gregory McCullough, 21, who was seriously injured when his tow truck fell into a crater following the explosion, has also hired lawyers from the Cochran Firm to hold accountable all entities responsible for the blast.A Con Ed spokesman said the steam pipe involved in the blast was in good condition at the time of the explosion and was found not to have contributed to the incident. The utility is also in the process of upgrading portions of Manhattan's steam pipe system. That borough is the only one in which the utility operates steam pipes, he said.Con Ed's report found that heavy rains on the morning of the blast led to high levels of external water accumulating around the steam pipe, causing it to cool and condensation to form and collect within it.Materials put into place by a contractor who had fixed a leaking portion of the pipe several months earlier had come loose and blocked valves in the pipe, the report found. On the day of the explosion, steam combined with condensation in the pipe to create a bubble that rapidly changed to water, the report found. That water rushed through the pipe, came into contact with water coming from the opposite direction and slammed into the pipe's wall, the report found.The water pressure in the pipe caused the explosion, according to the report.State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said increased regulation of the utility would likely prevent further incidents."Enough is enough already," he said. "Now is the time for Con Edison to stop passing the buck and agree to the reforms necessary to protect New Yorkers from its mismanagement."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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