PGW paying $500,000 to settle civil action after 2011 Tacony explosion

 The Philadelphia Gas Works has been ordered to pay $500,000 in penalties for a fatal gas explosion in 2011.

The five-member Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved a settlement for the January 2011 incident.   The explosion occurred in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, killing a 19-year-old PGW worker who responded to a gas leak call. Five others were injured.

Commissioner Wayne Gardner says the half-million-dollar fine was the most the PUC could impose, based on when the explosion occurred. If it happened today, though, he said the fine would have been $1.6 million. PUC commissioners were vocal in their criticism of PGW’s performance on the day of the blast.

The explosion leveled a row house, destroyed cars and shattered windows along Torresdale Avenue on the night of Jan. 18, 2011.

Tacony neighborhood residents, including Anne Cybulski, recalled complaining to the Philadelphia Gas Works about the smell of gas for about a year and a half before the explosion.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I would come home from the library and I’d say to my mother, I’m like ‘I smell gas again on Torresdale Avenue,'” she said Wednesday after hearing of the fine leveled at PGW.

Cybulski said she remembers seeing fire shoot up from an open manhole in the middle of the street.

The city-owned utility is working with the state to make sure the incident is not repeated, said PGW spokesman Barry O’Sullivan.

“As part of the settlement, the PUC has also directed PGW to file a plan for a pilot program designed to test enhanced leak-detection measures,” he said. “PGW welcomes the opportunity to work with the PUC to identify those measure and how they might be integrated into our established, robust leak-detection operations.”

The penalty includes $100,000 for the Philadelphia Fire Department’s smoke-detector program. Gardner said that alert, coupled with smart responses that day by city firefighters, prevented the incident from turning into a worse catastrophe.

Five people — four PGW workers and a city firefighter — were hospitalized with severe burns in the blast that claimed the life of 19-year-old Mark Keeley, a PGW employee.

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