Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page

Accident Report Detail

UGI Utilities, Inc., Natural Gas Distribution Pipeline Explosion and Fire

Executive Summary

‚ÄčAbout 6:45 p.m. on June 9, 1994, a 2-inch-diameter steel gas service line that had been exposed during excavation separated at a compression coupling about 5 feet from the north wall of John T. Gross Towers, an eight story retirement home operated by the Allentown Housing Authority at Allentown, Pennsylvania. The failed UGI Utilities, Inc., service line released natural gas at 55 psig pressure, and the escaping gas flowed underground to Gross Towers. The gas passed through openings in the building foundation, entered the mechanical room through floor vents, and migrated to other building floors.

An Environmental Preservation Associates, Inc., employee, who had been using a backhoe to excavate fuel-contaminated soil from the area, detected the odor of gas and heard a third-floor resident shout that she smelled a strong gas odor. The employee went to a building entrance and encountered a very strong odor of natural gas. He told his foreman, who, after having the backhoe shut down, telephoned the gas company and the housing authority, telling them of the gas odor. The foreman then instructed other employees to locate and shut off the gas line valve.

About 6:58 p.m., the natural gas that had accumulated within the building was ignited, causing an explosion. A second explosion occurred about 5 minutes later. At the time of the explosion, many of the Gross Towers and Towers East residents were out of the building. The accident resulted in 1 fatality, 66 injuries, and more than $5 million in property damage.

Probable Cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the natural gas explosion and fire at Gross Towers in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was the failure of the management of Environmental Preservation Associates, Inc., to ensure compliance with OSHA's and its own excavation requirements through project oversight.

Contributing to the accident was the failure of the workmen from Environmental Preservation Associates, Inc., to notify UGI Utilities, Inc., that the line had been damaged and was unsupported.

Contributing to the severity of the accident was the absence of an excess flow valve or a similar device, which could have rapidly stopped the flow of gas once the service line was ruptured. Also contributing to the severity of the accident was the absence of a gas detector, which could have alerted the fire department and residents promptly when escaping gas entered the building.

Accident Location: Allentown , PA    
Accident Date: 6/9/1994
Accident ID: DCA94MP003

Date Adopted: 2/26/1996
NTSB Number: PAR-96-01
NTIS Number: PB96-916501