An 83-year-old steam pipe burst underground in midtown Manhattan July 18 during rush-hour near Grand Central Terminal, creating a geyser of brownish water, steam and debris. One person died of cardiac arrest. More than 30 others were injured. Consolidated Edison (ConEd) announced that the air was clear of asbestos (the material used to insulate the piping), however the debris was contaminated.

The area had recently experienced heavy rainfall, and it is suspected that water hammer is the cause of the explosion. Proper maintenance of the system’s steam traps is needed to take care of condensate. “Unfortunately, it’s impossible for (ConEd) to stay ahead [of maintenance] because the pipes are very old and underground,” Barry Abramson, an analyst at Gabelli Asset Management told the Associated Press.

PM columnist Dan Holohan agrees that we shouldn’t be surprised when 100-year-old basically unmaintained pipe has had enough. “Heck, parts of NYC’s water system still runs through wooden pipes,” he says.