The Smog Beneath

With a hazy public understanding of the state of New York City’s subterranean landscape, with incessant city-wide construction, with infrastructure that dates from a century ago or more, and with millions of dollars necessary just to repair accidents across the five boroughs each year, the question is not if another underground leak, fire or explosion will kill people again in New York. It’s when.

Much of New York’s underground infrastructure was built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first gas lines were built nearly two centuries ago, in 1823. In the 1880s, steam became the primary method to heat New York. The New York Gas Light Company, the Edison Company, and the New York Steam Company all laid pipes, and soon after, their systems integrated, eventually becoming Consolidated Edison. Today, across New York City, Con Ed owns more than 100 miles of steam lines that are powered by seven steam plants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Across such a large, dense system, and amid perpetual construction by Con Edison, Verizon, Time Warner and various contractors, the old pipes and cables weather consistent stress. When they break or malfunction, someone has to take the blame. Someone has to pay to repair the damage.

Read more at SMOG.

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