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But the air is safe


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Asbestos found in dust from NYC eruption


By ADAM GOLDMAN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 4 minutes ago


NEW YORK - A massive geyser of steam and debris that erupted through a midtown Manhattan street left asbestos in the dust that settled, but city officials said Thursday that tests indicated the air was safe.



The city's Office of Emergency Management said in a statement that long-term health problems from the rupture of the 83-year-old steam pipe and its debris were "unlikely."


Streets were still closed Thursday morning around the crater left by the eruption near Grand Central Terminal, creating near-gridlock during the morning rush. New Yorkers streamed down Park Avenue, some wearing masks to filter the air as they weaved around utility trucks amid the sound of jackhammers. Clumps of office workers, BlackBerries in hand, huddled on corners for word on whether their offices would open.


"I'm mostly calm and collected," said Tony Vcaj, 26, who was outside his closed building at 42nd Street and Third Avenue. He was trying to reach his boss to figure out the day's game plan.


The loud, rumbling eruption began shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday, breaking windows and rattling buildings as the pipe spewed steam, dirt and debris hundreds of feet into the air. One woman died of an apparent heart attack, and about 30 people were injured, four seriously.


Officials quickly ruled out terrorism as the cause of the blast, but for some witnesses, the explosion, dust and chaos were frighteningly reminiscent of the scene on Sept. 11, 2001.


"We were scared to death. It sounded like a bomb hit or a bomb went off, just like 9/11. People were hysterical, crying, running down the street," said Karyn Easton, a customer at a salon a few blocks from the site of the blast. "It was really surreal."


City crews worked overnight to assess and repair the damage and to determine what happened. Most subway service was restored, though most of the trains were passing Grand Central.


On Thursday, asbestos contamination was the main lingering health concern, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Some of the pipes that pump steam beneath the city to heat and cool thousands of buildings are wrapped in asbestos, which can cause cancer and other serious illnesses with prolonged exposure.


Area residents were urged to keep windows closed, and anyone exposed to the falling debris was instructed to wash carefully and isolate the clothing they were wearing in plastic bags. Eight air samples in the area around the explosion found no sign of asbestos, but six of 10 samples of debris and dust came back positive, the emergency-management agency said Thursday.


City engineers also warned that up to six feet surrounding the giant hole might be in danger of further collapse, and officials said workers would not be allowed into office buildings in a zone that covered several blocks.


Officials said the steam pipe might have exploded under pressure caused by an infiltration of cold rainwater, or it might have been damaged by a water main break.


Con Edison head Kevin Burke said the site had been inspected hours before the blast as part of a routine response to heavy rain that flooded parts of the city. He said crews had found nothing as they searched for steam rising from manhole covers or cracks in the street

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The air in NYC wasn't safe before the eruption.

There is no reason to believe it will get any better after.


The city has to say nothing is wrong or else people will avoid going out to shop. That could cost the city millions in sales tax revenue per day.


Let's not forget potential lawsuits from victims...

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