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What Can We Learn From the Horrific Harlem Blast?

Here's why repairing old pipes can save lives, benefit the environment and boost the economy.

Bad pipes have big problems. Old pipes are less efficient and use more energy. Leaks from eroded pipes can also contaminate the environment and impact air quality. And in the most devastating of cases, problematic pipes can take down entire apartment buildings, cause serious injuries and even claim lives, as the horrific East Harlem natural gas blast (presumably caused by leaky pipes) demonstrated last week.

The problem with pipes is their finite lifespan. And while authorities are still trying figure out the exact cause of the Harlem blast, it has brought much-needed attention to New York City’s aging gas and water mains, some of which are more than 100 years old.

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Simply put, we need to replace, repair or upgrade our cities’ aging pipelines. It may sound like a dramatic fix, but when it’s a life or death situation, this action is critical. When there’s a gas leak, fumes escape and a room can become a ticking time bomb, ignited by anything — from a lit cigarette to a flickering light bulb.

The tragedy in Harlem is proof that we need to fix leaks before it’s too late, especially in older cities like New York, Boston or Philadelphia. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a proponent of infrastructure repair, has said that the federal government needs to provide more aid to cities for this problem.

But there are additional reasons why the whole country should be investing in pipeline upgrades. As Grist pointed out in a recent report, doing so would not only prevent future disasters, but the environment and the economy would be better off as a result, as well. According to the report, natural gas leaks cause methane, a potent gas that’s “between 20 and 85 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as [carbon dioxide]” to be released into the atmosphere, driving climate change.

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As for the economy, repairing the nation’s existing pipeline infrastructure — an estimated $18 billion investment — would create many more long-term jobs than the (controversial) Keystone XL pipeline, according to a study released by the Economics for Equity and Environment and the Labor Network for Sustainability (via HuffPo). That’s 300,000 total jobs across all sectors or nearly five times more jobs, and more long-term jobs than the KXL, the report states.

While it may not be easy or glamorous, it sounds like repairing the country’s pipelines shouldn’t be such a pipe dream.

Source: Grist

Lorraine Chow is a writer and reporter based in Los Angeles, Calif. She previously worked for the New York Post's Page Six.