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PECO’s natural gas pipelines did not cause the deadly explosion in Pottstown, Montgomery County, last May. That’s the conclusion of a 10-month investigation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
There is “no evidence that public utility natural gas service contributed to that deadly event,” reads the report.
The explosion destroyed two homes and killed five people, including four children and their grandmother, and injured the children’s two parents.
The investigation into what did cause the explosion is ongoing, and is led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). ATF spokesperson David Krueger told WHYY News that the agency could not speculate on possible causes because the investigation is ongoing. Krueger also said ATF could not speculate on when the investigation would conclude.
Although the PUC’s report indicates the investigation should now focus on the interior of the house, it does not have jurisdiction.
Pottstown Police Chief Michael Markovich said their office has no further information and are awaiting details on the investigation from the ATF.
The PUC’s conclusion confirmed the results of PECO’s own investigation made soon after the incident.
PECO has gas mains along Hale Street, where the explosion took place, but neither the home where the explosion occurred nor the adjoining twin home that was also destroyed were connected to those pipelines through gas service lines.
“Our hearts continue to be with the Pottstown community and the families affected by this tragic incident last May,” said a PECO spokesperson in a statement. “We agree with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s recent conclusion, which found no evidence that public utility natural gas service contributed to the incident.”
Although the PUC found gas leaks on Hale Street, it said the gas did not enter the building nor the foundation wall. Neighbors previously shared with WHYY that they consistently smelled gas in the area.
The PUC says its investigation included interviews with gas company employees, first responders, and residents. Investigators examined physical evidence and utility operational records; monitored service restorations and repairs around the incident site; and engaged expert engineers as part of the investigation.
The PUC’s investigation found “low level ‘nonstandard’ levels of methane” in the yard of the house, but says it’s unlikely related to the explosion.
“Based on the review of samples that were taken at the site, these readings were found inconclusive, with the highest likelihood that they were not a contributing factor to the event,” the investigation says.
An Amerigas propane tank was also present on the property. It remains unclear if it could have contributed to the explosion. In an emailed statement, the company says it “[looks] forward to reviewing the results of the full investigation once finalized.”
The explosion rendered six houses in the area “uninhabitable” by the Department of Licensing and Inspections, according to L&I Director Keith Place.
Officials ruled out any type of drug activity, such as a meth lab, early on in the investigation.
While the cause of the incident is still unknown, the PUC says “the focus of any further investigation remains on the interior of the home, but this is outside the scope of the PUC’s jurisdiction.”
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