BLOOMY’S ‘BIG FEAR’ IS ASBESTOS CLOUD

Source: http://www.nypost.com, July 19, 2007
By: David Seifman, Jennifer Cook and Andy Geller

There may not be deadly asbestos in the “hot zone” on the East Side of Manhattan, but the city isn’t taking any chances.

It’s conducting exhaustive checks and keeping people out of the 30 buildings, mostly office structures, in the zone until officials are sure.

The possibility of asbestos contamination arose when a steam pipe – installed in 1924 – burst. Some pipes carrying steam through the city are wrapped in asbestos.

“The big fear that we have is there may or may not have been asbestos release,” Mayor Bloomberg said.

If there was such a release, it may have been washed away by the water that came with the steam, but city officials weren’t taking the risk lightly.

They were testing the air and the 42nd Street subway station at Grand Central.

Some cops were also giving face masks to building workers.

“If you walk around where it happened without a mask, the back of your throat starts to itch and your nose starts to burn,” one cop explained.

Although Bloomberg said the results might be ready last night, Con Ed boss Kevin Burke said the utility was conducting its own tests and more time was needed.

In the meantime, city officials told residents to stay out of the hot zone – from 40th to 43rd streets and from Third to Vanderbilt avenues.

And Jessica Lang of the city Health Department said people should act as if there is contamination.

Anyone exposed to the debris should wash with soap and water and place their clothing in a plastic bag, she said. Area residents should close their windows and use air conditioning.

Some people were so worried about asbestos contamination, they went to hospitals to have themselves checked out.

One of them was Jill Tunick, 24, who was leaving Grand Central Terminal when the blast occurred.

“I got covered in dust – actually splattered – and I was not taking any chances,” she said.

She went to New York Hospital, where she was told to shower, put her clothes in a plastic bag and come back if she had any symptoms.

Christine Finney, 30, Louise Stonemetz, 29, and Suzanne Harding, 36, all from Boston, were getting pedicures at a nail salon at 41st Street and Madison Avenue when the pipe exploded.

Terrified, they ran barefoot to 34th and Seventh Avenue – and decided to return home.

“I didn’t feel comfortable staying here and breathing in the air,” Stonemetz said.

Asbestos, once prized as a flame-retardant, has been banned because its fibers can cause asbestosis – a scarring of the lungs – and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer.

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