Baltimore steam pipe explosion damaged 33 vehicles, leaving frustrated car owners

The steam pipe explosion in downtown Baltimore damaged 33 vehicles last week — and sprayed cancer-causing asbestos onto several cars.

Veolia North America, the company that manages the city's 15-mile network of steam pipes, is still investigating what caused the explosion. In the meantime, frustrated car owners say they're worried about who will pay for the repairs to their inoperable vehicles.

Don Muir, 63, of Perry Hall said his 2002 Honda Accord, which was parked near the site of the explosion, looks like someone took a "shotgun" to it. The windows are shattered and the vehicle is unusable. Muir said there's no word on who will cover the damages.

"I'm just playing the waiting game to see who is going to take responsibility," said Muir, who only has liability insurance — meaning damage caused by the explosion would not likely be covered by his policy.

Another car owner, Vernell Moulton, 48, of West Baltimore, has her own frustrations. She said Veolia moved her car without telling her and she has had to call six people to find out who has her keys.

Her Mazda CX-5 was parked in the nearby Holiday Inn parking lot the day of the blast, which shattered her car's windows and showered it in debris.

Moulton wanted the car repaired at a nearby body shop, but she said Veolia moved her car back to Eutaw Street without telling her. Veolia spokesman Paul Whitmore said the "body shop contacted us to come pick up the vehicle so that we could clean it in accordance with MDE protocol."

Moulton said she now has no idea who has her keys, and she's worried people could steal her personal belongings through her car's gaping windows.

"Someone has definitely dropped the ball with this," Moulton said. "I've called six different people and gotten six different stories."

Whitmore said Veolia still is working to determine the cause of the blast. He said the company has been testing cars for asbestos, and the outside of four cars tested positive.

Company officials said no asbestos — a substance known to cause cancer if inhaled — has been detected in the air near the explosion site. Asbestos was used to wrap the underground pipes, which carry steam throughout downtown.

"We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience last week's steam line break caused owners of vehicles parked near the scene," Whitmore said. "We have spoken with all of them and assured them we're working as fast as we can to determine the cause."

Asbestos also has been found on the Holiday Inn building, the Maryland Department of the Environment said Wednesday.

Veolia is directing calls about claims to Erin Martinez at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., 972-443-9101.

Whitmore said it may take several weeks to complete repairs at the site of the explosion, on Eutaw Street between Lombard and Pratt streets.

The June 20 explosion caused minor injuries to five people and blasted chunks of pavement into the air.

The steam from the underground system is used to heat large buildings, such as the Baltimore Convention Center, and also is used for such purposes as sterilizing hospital equipment and cleaning laundry.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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