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'Human Error' Blamed in Club Explosion

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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A natural-gas explosion that leveled a Massachusetts strip club, damaged 42 buildings, and injured 21 people has been blamed on the apparent mismarking of a gas line.

The incident started Friday (Nov. 23) afternoon when a strong smell of natural gas was reported from the basement of Scores Gentlemen's Club in Springfield, MA.

The explosion happened about 5:25 p.m.

The Republican / David Molnar

After an explosion leveled a strip club, it was determined that the utility worker punctured an incorrectly marked gas line.

Twelve firefighters, four gas company employees, two police officers, a municipal water and sewer department employee, and two civilians were injured.

Pipeline Incorrectly Marked

A utility worker responding to calls about a strong natural-gas odor at the club inadvertently punctured a hole in a high-pressure gas line at the foundation of the building.

Sidewalk markings that should have indicated where the gas line was located were two feet to the right of where the pipe was actually buried, said officials for the state's Department of Public Utilities.

"We have determined that human error, as opposed to a fault in the gas infrastructure, is what the cause of the explosion was," said a statement from the State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan's office.

"His examination appears to have been an appropriate distance from where older markings on the sidewalk indicated where the gas line was," the statement from Coan's office said.

After puncturing the pipe, the worker called the gas company and the fire department to shut off the gas, and the area around the building was evacuated.

The Republican / Michael Beswick

A firefighter shows the puncture that led to an explosion that injured 21 people.

Gas workers venting a gas leak got indications that the building was about to explode and ducked for cover behind a utility truck just before the blast. Most of the injured were in that group, and the truck that saved their lives was essentially demolished, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association.

Investigators believe gas from the leak entered the building and later ignited.

Smelling Gas for 'Months'

Stacy, a dancer at Scores, told the Boston Globe that she had smelled gas in the building earlier this year. "I've been smelling gas there for four months," Stacy said. She said the owner of the club used to spray deodorizers to mask the smell.

The blast was felt up to 10 miles away and blew out windows in a three-block radius, leaving at least three buildings irreparably damaged.

"We found one leak and repaired that leak. I'm not willing to say at this moment there is no other leak in the general area," said Stephen Bryant, president of Columbia Gas, during a press conference.

A statement on Columbia Gas' website said, "While the investigation is still underway, we feel it is our responsibility, and a priority, to support the residents and businesses impacted."

3K+ Leaks Beneath Boston

Days before the blast, researchers from Boston University and Duke University published a new study that identified 3,356 separate natural-gas leaks beneath the streets of Boston.

Nathan Phillips / Boston University

A new Boston University study shows thousands of gas leaks in the city.

"While our study was not intended to assess explosion risks, we came across six locations in Boston where gas concentrations exceeded the threshold above which explosions can occur," said Nathan Phillips, co-author of the study and an associate professor in BU's Department of Earth and Environment.

The researchers mapped leaks across all 785 road miles in the city of Boston and identified leaks with concentrations exceeding up to 15 times the global background level, according to the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.


Tagged categories: Explosions; Pipelines

Comment from Burt Olhiser, (11/27/2012, 6:59 PM)

My tongue is firmly in my cheek here, so does this indicate that our infrastructure needs some work?

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