About that Gas Explosion and Con Ed’s Response to Gas Leaks

Yesterday a gas leak in a building in Harlem resulted in an explosion and the death of seven people so far. Con Ed was called and the building exploded before they got there. I have to wonder if they had gotten any calls before yesterday about the gas odor.

Because when I smelled gas in my building in 2007 and called Con Ed it took three months for the gas to be turned off. I kept a timeline of my efforts to get help. I’m going to give a Cliff Notes version first, but I think it’s worth it to read the expanded version, to see just how insane it was.

Cliff Notes Version

10/7/07: I call Con End and report a gas leak. They say no leak.
12/29/07: Con Ed finally agrees there’s a leak and turns off the gas to my apartment.
12/31/07: I tell Con Ed that I still smell gas coming into my apartment. Con Ed says I’m mistaken and I call the landlord, the EPA and HPD. No help.
1/8/08: I call the City who calls the FDNY who agree there is a gas leak still and they call Con Ed who finally shut off the gas.
2/5/08: The problem is fixed. My gas is turned back on.

So it took Con Ed over THREE MONTHS to shut off the gas to my building. It took my landlord a month to fix the problem.

The Expanded Version

10/7/07: Called Con Ed about the smell of gas. Con Ed comes ands says it’s not gas, maybe a dead animal in the walls.
11/16: Called landlord.
11/23: Sent letter to landlord.
11/30: Sent another letter to landlord.
12/6: Called HPD to complain. HPD later sends an Acknowledgement of Complaint with the wrong room and says it’s a sewer issue even though I said it smells like gas.
12/11: Employee of landlord stops by, checks a spot, does nothing but says he will be back tomorrow to work on it.
12/12: No one comes back.
12/13: Called landlord.
12/14: Called landlord.
12/20: Called landlord. It’s been over a month and they have done nothing.
12/25: Voice mail from the City.
12/26: Called City back and left voice mail.
12/26: Called landlord.
12/29: Asked Con Ed to come back. Con Ed found a gas leak. Turned gas off for my apartment. Called landlord.
12/31: I’m still smelling gas! Called Con Ed. Con Ed came but was reading zero now. No gas leak, they say. Called landlord.
1/2/08: Called landlord and asked when the plumber would be coming.
1/4: Landlord’s guys move cabinet to prepare for plumber who is coming today he says, but no plumber arrives.
1/5: Called landlord, no plumber.
1/7: Called landlord, no plumber. The gas smell persists.
1/7: Called the EPA about the smell.
1/7: Called landlord. The gas smell persists.
1/8: Called the City to complain and they called the FDNY who took readings of their own and found that there is still a leak. They called Con Ed. Con Ed is back and they agree now that there is still a gas leak. They verified that since my gas is turned off from the basement there is another leak elsewhere in the building. Gas turned off for the whole building.
1/9: A plumber starts working in the basement.
1/12: Still no gas and no word about when it will be back.
1/15: Everyone has their gas back except me. Called landlord.
1/16: HPD says I have to call 311 and open a new complaint about the gas leak and can offer no explanation why. It hasn’t been fixed. But I call again and am given complaint #4095996.
1/16: Con Ed said all the problems have been fixed but mine. Plumber has to fix the turn off valve to my apartment.
1/16: Called landlord.
1/17: Sent a certified letter and this timeline to my landlord, the City and Con Ed.
1/18: HPD said an inspector would come between 9 and 1, no one showd.
1/19: HPD calls and asks if any of my complaints have been fixed. No.
1/28: I send another certified letter to the landlord.
1/29: Landlord’s office calls and asks me if everything is okay. (???) I say no. The plumber says he’s sending someone right over. No one shows up.
1/31: Called landlord. Also left a message for HPD.
2/4: Con Ed calls and says they haven’t heard from the landlord that the repairs have been made. Called landlord.
2/5: Con Ed installs meter and turns the gas back on.

I sent a letter to the City and Con Ed after the gas was finally turned off for the whole building (but before the gas leak was fixed) that began with the following:

“I am writing because due to the inaction on the part of my landlord and then by the City of New York, and incorrect readings by Con Edison, a potentially dangerous situation in my apartment and my building went unaddressed for months and I was forced to live in intolerable conditions. From October 7 to January 8 gas was pumping into my apartment. As of this writing the problem is still not fixed.”

No one from Con Ed ever responded. I can’t remember if the City ever got back to me.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “About that Gas Explosion and Con Ed’s Response to Gas Leaks

  1. We are our own best advocates. No one else really has our best interests at heart, unless that one is our family or loved one. That said, many people are unable to advocate for themselves and so community and relationships become very important. People need to join together and make their voices heard to those (in power) without such a close and vested interest in the matter.

    We had a strong natural gas smell in the house some weeks ago and when I went looking for the source, I discovered my neighbours also going outside, wondering about the smell. It turned out that the local gas supplier has bled off some gas from a main pipeline and it stunk up half the city. But people were ready to do something about it, as it happened, which was good.

    My heart goes out to the victims in Harlem.

  2. Well, that is just ridiculous.
    Thank you for educating the nation–just yesterday my mom asked me on the phone, “So those buildings that blew up in New York, do you think the gas company never heard about that before?” And I was able to tell her about your story. Hope you never have another gas leak, if that’s how painful it is to have it fixed.

  3. I think a lot of our infrastructure is starting to weaken and endanger some of us. Unfortunately the companies, building owners & cities involved try to turn a blind eye until something like the explosion happens. Wasn’t it only a few months back that a similar explosion happened, but with no causalities?

    I heat with natural gas, so I’m always concerned with the lines running to my house, as well as my central heating unit (but that is inspected by the co. that installed it every six months). Sigh.

  4. It’s so scary!

    CR, it was insane.

    And Julia, that was a much better response. I put signs on every floor of my building asking people if they were smelling it in their apartments, and no one responded. Turns out they all did smell it. What were they thinking?? It wasn’t until the last day when 911 was called that someone said something to me.

    The most bizarre thing was a couple of neighbors were mad at me, blaming me for the gas being turned off while it was being fixed. Would they have preferred just letting it go and having the building explode??

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