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Traces of asbestos have been found in the debris of a steam pipe explosion in Manhattan which left a huge crater on Fifth Avenue on Thursday morning and sparked rush hour chaos.
Anyone who was covered in dust or debris from the explosion is being asked to turn their dirty clothes in to Con Edison for testing. The explosion happened at 6.40am on Fifth Avenue between 21st and 22nd street outside Club Monaco.
Anyone who was briefly exposed to the air near the scene is not at a health risk but if they were doused debris or if their clothing was even lightly touched by dust, they are at risk of repeated exposure.
The asbestos was found in the 86-year-old steam line casing which burst onto the street as a result of the build-up of pressure underground.
Over the next few days, 49 buildings will be searched and tested for exposure. Twenty-eight of those are in what is being described as a 'hot zone'. They will all remain closed for several days while tests are underway.
Authorities have not yet released a zoning map which shows the affected area.
Some of the buildings in the area are partly residential. Anyone who has been displaced by the explosion may be compensated by Con Edison as will anyone whose clothing was affected.
The drop off for clothes which may be contaminated is 22nd Street and Broadway.
Anyone who was in the vicinity at the time of the explosion must shower, remove the clothing and place it in a bag to be washed. If they feel their clothing was contaminated, it must be dropped off.
The explosion left a huge crater in the middle of Fifth Avenue between 21st and 22nd street where smoke and steam billowed from the ground and enormous pools of water formed at 6.40am on Thursday. The windows of the buildings nearby were showered in grey matter
An overhead view taken by ABC's chopper after the explosion shows the depth of the hole and the extent of the debris which blanketed the street and surrounding buildings
If you were in the area of Fifth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Street on Thursday at 6.40am when the pipe exploded, there is little cause for concern unless your clothing was covered by debris from the blast.
Anyone who was nearby is urged to remove the clothes they were wearing and bag it up to be handed in to Con Edison. They can drop it off at a site set-up at 22nd Street and Broadway.
If you were nearby but your clothes were not hit dusted in debris, you are not at risk.
Anyone who still fears they may have been contaminated can go to one of the decontamination centers set up by the FDNY on Fifth Avenue near the blast site.
At a press conference at the site on Thursday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said: 'There was asbestos in the steam line casing.
'That's obviously a real concern to us. We've confirmed the presence of asbestos.
'We have also tested the air since the time of the incident.
'The air cleared fairly quickly and is now safe. There is no meaningful presence of asbestos in the air at this point.'
He was emphatic as he told people not to worry unless their clothes had been dusted in debris.
'Brief exposure to the air is not a problem but if this material is in a building or on clothing, that is a real concern.
'We do not want anything that could cause repeated exposure.
'Anyone who feels their clothing was contaminated, there is a specific protocol to make sure they remove it, bag it, bring it to a Con Ed site.
'We want that clothing turned in if there is debris or dust on the clothing. Con Ed will compensate those people in an appropriate fashion,' he said.
There are dozens of buildings that will remain closed will now be looked over by professionals and tested for traces of contamination.
Anyone who was evacuated must stay away until they are told definitively that it is safe for them to return.
The crater was still spurting steam, debris and dirty water for more than an hour after the initial blast
Stream rises from an exploded pipe on Fifth Avenue on Thursday morning after the explosion at rush hour
WHAT IS IT?
Asbestos is a heat-resistant mineral material which was popular in building and construction until the 1980s.
They contain microscopic fibers which, if they are breathed in, can fester and cause lethal diseases including types of cancer.
Asbestos was commonplace in construction in America and in many other countries until the dangers it posed became plain.
Because it is heat-resistant and can be pulled apart to form a fluffy consistency, it was a popular choice of insulation for cost-conscious builders.
Now, it is banned in dozens of countries across the world but the US is not one of them.
Its use is heavily regulated and the United States Environmental Protection Agency has banned a list of products which are known to contain it.
The banned products are; Corrugated paper, Rollboard, Commercial paper, Specialty paper and flooring felt.
However, many others which contain it are not. Those include; cement corrugated sheet, Cement flat sheet, Clothing, Pipeline wrap, Roofing felt, Vinyl floor tile, Cement shingle, Millboard, Cement pipe, Automatic transmission components, Clutch facings, Friction materials, Disk brake pads, Drum brake linings, Brake blocks, Gaskets, Non-roofing coatings, Roof coatings.
In 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR), which planned to impose a full ban on the manufacturing, importation, processing and sale of asbestos-containing products.
Exposure to asbestos has been known to contribute to a range of ailments including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
It is a natural substance which is breathed in in small doses almost by everyone without any health defects.
However, when a large amount is disrupted and becomes airborne, more fibers are inhaled and therefore pose a risk.
After the 9/11 attacks, many were feared to be at risk of developing health defects because of their prolonged exposure to the site which was blanketed in toxic debris.
An FDNY spokesman said the explosion was a 'high pressure leak' but the exact cause of the blast is not yet known.
Con Edison dismissed rumors it may have been caused by construction workers at the site and said there was no work happening at the time of the explosion.
One police officer and three civilians experienced scrapes and cuts as a result of the immediate blast but no other injuries were reported.
Bystanders shared astonishing photographs of plumes of steam rushing down the iconic street as fire fighters worked to get it under control.
The FDNY has set up two decontamination zones where anyone who worries that they may have been affected can go to be hosed down and checked over
A car next to the blast site was showered by dirty water and debris which erupted when the pipe blew
Crowds gathered at the foot of the barricade while fire fighters worked at the scene
FDNY fire fighters hose down the street near the explosion site on Thursday morning
The cloud of smoke and steam formed beneath the Empire State Building and, from some places, made it invisible
An NYPD police officer wears a mask as he patrols the area, stopping members of the public from accessing the zone which may be contaminated
There was an enormous response from fire fighters and police who remained on the scene for hours after the explosion
Crowds gathered behind barricades that police set up as fire fighters tried to get the steam under control
Dirt and steam come spurting out of the crater in front of a Con Edison engineer who watched while breathing from an oxygen tank on his back
Huge chunks of concrete were uprooted by the explosion. They formed a rocky barrier around the smoldering hole afterwards
A bystander films the huge plume of steam in the middle of Fifth Avenue on Thursday morning
Decontamination zones were set up at the site on Thursday. Anyone whose clothing may have been contaminated is being told to hand it in to Con Edison on 22nd Street and Broadway
By noon, the cloud of steam had dissipated and the situation was under control but authorities continued to work at the scene
Witnesses described hearing a 'crazy loud sound' when the blast occurred then watching as the steam rose hundreds of feet into the air.
'There was just this absolute crazy loud sound. It was just really powerful.
'There are a lot of emergency personnel.
'Every block has either a fire engine or ambulance around it,' Adam Bloom, who was on the 30th floor of a nearby building, told local radio station WCBS. He said the smoke was rising higher than where he was.
Huge clouds of smoke engulfed made surrounding landmarks including The Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building impossible to see.