In September 2018, a series of violent natural gas explosions in Boston shocked the country. While the devastation caused by the Boston gas explosions stood out, gas leaks and resultant injuries happen throughout the country every year. Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of gas utility lines and find out how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from fires and explosions.
America’s Decades-Old Natural Gas Infrastructure Is Crumbling
There are about 2.2 million miles of natural gas pipelines snaking underneath America’s communities. As of 2017, more than 70,000 miles of this pipeline system is made up of cast iron or bare steel that’s between 50 and 100 years old. These aging pipelines are highly dangerous, both to use and to replace.
The 2018 explosions in Boston occurred while maintenance teams were working to replace outdated cast iron pipes. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a utility crew failed to disconnect a pressure sensor while removing the old line. The company’s systems detected a drop in gas pressure and began pumping natural gas into the area, increasing the pressure to 12 times the pipes’ tolerance.
This decision to pump in more gas triggered a series of explosions that destroyed 131 buildings, killed one young man, and injured many more. Hundreds of Boston residents found themselves homeless after the blasts. Now, a series of lawsuits are pending against both the natural gas utility and its parent company.
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Compared to some states, Virginia has a lower rate of cast iron and bare steel gas pipelines. However, that doesn’t mean our communities are safe from gas leaks and explosions. According to national data, Virginia utility companies repaired more than 250 leaks for every 1,000 miles of natural gas pipeline in 2017. Of these leaks, 40% were considered hazardous.
According to USA Today, between 2010 and 2018, Virginia has experienced dozens of gas-related explosions and fires. These incidents resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and many injuries.
Regulatory Agencies Lack the Resources and Power to Effectively Inspect Pipelines and Enforce Rules
Natural gas pipelines are regulated by a patchwork of agencies at both the state and federal levels. This hodgepodge can make enforcement actions difficult if not impossible. Critics say the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is understaffed, performs little real oversight, and lacks transparency. To make matters worse, lobbyists for gas and utility companies are asking the Trump administration to deregulate our pipeline system further.
Since the federal government is failing to ensure gas companies comply with regulations and hold them accountable for violations, natural gas injury claims and lawsuits matter more than ever. When you work with an experienced gas leak injury lawyer from the Phelan Petty team, we’ll demand justice and fight aggressively to hold the gas company and any other negligent parties responsible for their errors.
What to Do if You Think There’s a Gas Leak
If you notice hissing or sparks near a gas line, you should immediately evacuate the area and call 911 from a safe distance. However, in many cases, the signs of a dangerous gas leak are much subtler. You might detect an odor that smells like rotten eggs, or you might observe discolored or dead landscaping or houseplants near the leak.
If you suspect a gas leak, follow these steps, which can save lives and minimize harm:
- Make sure there aren’t any open flames in the building
- Do not turn on the lights, appliances, or any other electric devices since they can cause a spark (if you need a light source, use a battery-powered flashlight)
- Open your windows and doors to increase ventilation
- Evacuate the building and call your utility company from a safe location
- If your gas line’s emergency control valve is outside and you can access it safely, turn off your gas supply
- Do not try to repair or address the gas leak yourself; call the gas company and let them know about the situation
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Gas leaks can also cause physical symptoms in victims even before a fire or explosion. As natural gas fills a building, it reduces the amount of oxygen in the air. These lower levels of oxygen can cause life-threatening symptoms that include:
- Shortness of breath and other breathing problems
- Chest pain
- Nausea and dizziness
- Eye and throat irritation
If an explosion occurs, victims may suffer serious burns and other injuries. After a natural gas explosion, you should always call 911. You’ll need the help of first responders to control the fire, stop the flow of natural gas, and care for the injured.
Once you’ve dealt with your emergency needs, it’s in your best interest to contact an injury lawyer who has experience handling fire and explosion claims. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options, and they can also help you assess your damages and demand fair compensation from the insurance company.
Who Is Responsible for Gas Leaks, Explosions, and Fires?
While gas leak and explosion claims often focus on utility and gas companies, victims may have claims against other parties, too. Gas explosion claims may involve:
- Manufacturers of defective and dangerous products
- Utility companies
- Construction companies
- Landlords and property owners
Before you file a claim or lawsuit, you should always consult an experienced Virginia injury lawyer. Natural-gas-related explosion and fire claims are often complex, and figuring out who may be liable and how to value and assign damages isn’t easy.
Sometimes, gas companies will try to shift blame to property owners, arguing that the defect was their responsibility. In Virginia, property owners have a duty to inspect and maintain gas lines on their premises. Meanwhile, the utility companies only monitor and maintain the lines that run to the building’s meter. Because most property owners don’t have the technical expertise necessary to identify the cause and location of a leak, they also need a skilled injury lawyer on their side after an explosion or fire.
Phelan Petty: We Fight for Gas Leak and Explosion Victims in Virginia
At Phelan Petty, we’ve built a reputation for excellence based on our cutting-edge approach to handling fire and explosion claims. Our attorneys handle injury claims involving natural gas explosions, battery fires, and other complex circumstances.
To schedule your free one-on-one case evaluation with an experienced attorney from our team, complete our online form or call us at 804-980-7100. We’ll use this time to listen to your story and help you understand your options.
Korte, G., & Wooten, N. (2018, November 1). Pipeline peril: Natural gas explosions reveal silent danger lurking in old cast iron pipes. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2018/11/01/natural-gas-cast-iron-pipeline-explosion-fire-leak-safety-phmsa/1362595002/
National Transportation Safety Board. (2018, November 15). NTSB issues 5 urgent safety recommendations as investigation of Merrimack Valley gas explosions, fires continues [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/PLD18MR003-preliminary-report.aspx
Virginia state program metrics. (n.d). Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/StateProgramMetrics/StateProgramMetrics_VA.htm?nocache=8949