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West Reading chocolate factory explosion: Lawmakers propose eliminating problematic pipe linked to blast

Two lawmakers who represent Berks County in Congress are looking to eliminate the kind of piping that investigators say led to the fatal March explosion at a West Reading chocolate factory.

The March 24 blast, which took the lives of seven workers when it leveled an R.M. Palmer Co. plant on South Second Avenue, is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. In a preliminary report released in July, the agency cited a particular type of piping used to transport natural gas as the likely reason for the explosion.

That piping was an Aldyl A service tee, which has long been known to pose a danger of leaking. In 2007 it was even added to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s list of pipe materials with “poor performance histories relative to brittle-like cracking.”

But despite the apparent danger of the piping — it has been blamed for other explosions besides the one in West Reading — it can still be found across the nation. In the Palmer case, the Aldyl A service tee was no longer in use but had not been removed and was still connected to the natural gas system, investigators said.

U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Dan Meuser want to prevent such disasters.

The lawmakers, who each represent parts of Berks County and lost constituents in the Palmer explosion, are joining forces in an attempt to force natural gas operators to remove Aldyl A piping.

“We can’t undo what happened, but we can help make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Houlahan said.

Houlahan, a Chester County Democrat, and Meuser, a Luzerne County Republican, have introduced the Aldyl A Hazard Reduction and Community Safety Act to eliminate the problematic piping across the nation.

The legislation would require operators in high-consequence areas to identify existing Aldyl A and submit documentation about its usage to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within three years. It would empower the federal agency to issue standards for the removal of Aldyl A at pressurized locations in these areas within five years.

The operator in the case of the Palmer plant explosion, UGI Utilities Inc., declined to comment on the proposal. A spokesperson said the company cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.

The American Gas Association, which represents the interests of the natural gas industry, did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.

The legislation has been referred to the Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce committees.

Houlahan said removing Aldyl A from the natural gas system is crucial to preventing disasters like the one that happened in West Reading.

“We have been looking at where we fit at the federal level to prevent this kind of thing from happening to other families,” she said. “We have been watching the investigation unfold and trying to understand the root cause of the explosion. When the report was revealed it felt like the right place to hone in on and try to see what we could be doing.”

The lawmaker said the first step is trying to find out how much of this problematic piping is still in the system.

As utilities started transitioning to plastic pipes, the DuPont chemical company invented Aldyl A. The material became commercialized in the early 1970s and installed nationwide in the decade that followed, according to the professional engieering training site School of PE.

But by the end of that decade, DuPont discovered Aldyl A was prone to cracking and rupture due to excessive temperature settings when manufacturing the pipe. DuPont issued a nationwide memo to alert utility companies of the issue and worked to develop an improved version of the pipe, according to the School of PE.

Then, in 2007, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued advisory bulletins warning of premature cracking in Aldyl A pipes and urged utilities to frequently survey the lines for leaks. But the administration has never required it all to be dug up and replaced.

Houlahan said the bill would change that.

“The industry would be responsible for the cost of not only documentation but the cost of removing this particular material,” she said. “I feel it’s important to figure out where this still is, recognize that this appears to be hazardous and then remove it. It is the pipeline operators’ responsibility to do that when it’s a case of safety.”

Houlahan said she expects the industry response isn’t going to be favorable and she understands why that would be the case. But she said it’s her responsibility as a legislator and community leader to do what she can to prevent future tragedies.

“Seven community members lost their lives, leaving behind families and a broken community,” she said. “I feel it’s my responsibility to do what we can to address the situation regardless of what the pipeline operator industry thinks.

“Congress is full of pushback. But I feel as though Dan and I are on the right side for our community.”

Meuser did not respond to requests for comment about the legislation.

Source: Berkshire mont

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