Previous Explosion Victims Call on Con Edison to Fix Pipes

March 19, 2014 Updated: March 20, 2014

NEW YORK—Law firm Wigdor LLP hosted a press conference Wednesday calling on Con Edison to replace decaying utility infrastructure in the wake of the East Harlem explosion last Wednesday. Present at the meeting were victims of Con Edison’s past alleged negligence and their family members. They are all represented by Wigdor in lawsuits against Con Edison.

“I believe that Con Ed is more interested in extracting hundreds of millions of dollars of profit from the hardworking people of New York City while refusing to adequately protect them, and adequately maintain and replace pipes that are over 100 years old,” said Douglas Wigdor, founding partner at Wigdor.

In 2007, 21-year-old Gregory McCullough was walking by 41st Street and Lexington Avenue when a steam pipe exploded under ground. The explosion caused McCullough to suffer third degree burns to 80 percent of his body.

McCullough said in a statement: “When I heard about the recent explosion in East Harlem, it brought me back to the day when my life was almost taken from me. … I ask that all efforts be undertaken to make safe the infrastructure supporting New York City’s energy delivery systems.”

Also in 2007, Kunta Oza, a Sunnyside resident, called the Fire Department and Con Edison when she smelled gas. As a Con Edison crew was investigating, a gas explosion occurred and Oza was trapped inside the house. She died as a result of her injuries. Investigators determined that a gas main pipe under the street had broken, and leaking gas traveled into several homes via electrical conduits. Con Edison is responsible for the maintenance of gas main pipes.

“We’re asking [Con Edison]: please stop making excuses, and let’s start fixing these pipes,” said Clara Oza, Kunta Oza’s daughter-in-law.

The cause of the explosion that knocked down two buildings and killed 8 people in East Harlem last Wednesday is still under investigation. A high concentration of gas in the soil where the buildings collapsed raises the possibility of a gas leak.

Investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined a gas main leak on Park Avenue between 116th and 117th streets, adjacent to one of the collapsed buildings. However, this fact does not confirm the cause of the blast.

In response to the press conference, Con Edison issued a statement: “We’re continuing to work with the NTSB to determine the exact cause of the explosion, and continue to provide assistance to displaced families to help with their living expenses.”

It is undetermined if the leak existed before the explosion or was created as a result of the explosion. The cause of the blast is still unknown. NTSB’s investigation is ongoing.

Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.