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NYC Steam Pipe Explosion Reminds Us Of Toxic Past

On the morning of July 19, New York City experienced a steam pipe explosion that was later confirmed to be a potential health hazard for Manhattan residents. The news was flooded with photos of toxic smoke polluting the flatiron district, forcing officials to evacuate 49 buildings and establish decontamination centers for nearby workers and residents.

While the incident in New York City shed light on the issue of asbestos within steam lines, it is just the beginning of countless toxic asbestos-containing products installed throughout buildings nationwide. In light of recent events, it’s important to understand which indoor toxins could impact your overall health and how to address them safely and effectively.

New York City steam pipe explosion

Air Pollution and Old Infrastructure

In addition to steam pipes, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) can be found throughout many older homes, public buildings, and schools. Urban areas are considered high-risk locations, especially those where asbestos was shipped during the mid-20th century, including major cities like Dallas, Houston and Chicago. Contaminated products and materials found indoors include deteriorating cement, insulation, hot water pipes and heating ducts.

As asbestos-containing materials age their quality may begin to decline. When these products are damaged, they emit harmful airborne toxins that could affect our long-term health. Even a single incident of exposure can eventually result in a life-threatening disease like pleural mesothelioma, which is often associated with a low survival rate.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic products are also of concern because they can release a number of hazardous chemicals, including lead and phthalates, into the air indoors. Phthalates are often used within PVC products like flooring to make the material flexible and strong, yet they can off-gas chemicals for months. It has been found that 90% of all phthalates are used within these products, which could allow toxic airborne particles to cling to dust and lead to possible inhalation.

Not only can exposure to phthalates worsen asthma, it can harm the reproductive system and has become a pressing concern for children. The chemical is now banned from children’s PVC toys, but can still be found in materials installed throughout public buildings across the nation.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been found to be ten times higher indoors due to the thousands of consumer products that contain these chemicals. Building supplies, paints, caulks, varnishes and adhesives can be an ongoing source of indoor VOC exposure.

Formaldehyde is one of the most notable VOCs, and small amounts of this chemical are found in a majority of homes today. Levels can accumulate to an excessive degree if the home or building contains newly-manufactured wood products such as flooring, furniture, or cabinets.

It’s recommended to initially place new products like furniture outside so they can release any harmful chemicals without infiltrating your indoor air. If you begin to experience eye, nose, throat or skin irritation, or heightened asthma symptoms, you may have endured a significant amount of exposure and should test your home.


Purify Your Indoor Air

Due to the number of harmful chemicals found within industrial products, toxic airborne exposure may be unavoidable. Whether you live in a large city or rural area, you should consider taking preventative action as these materials are often hidden within older infrastructure.

If you find yourself concerned with any of these hazards, we recommend using a HEPA filter with our mod or mod jr. HEPA air purifiers. These products are specifically designed to address serious issues and can provide you with safe and clean indoor air.