Residents near the bombed-out Pottstown home smelled gas for years. “It hit you in the face” – Wake Up Call

The smell of gas was so strong when Britney Pinson walked out of her Pottstown duplex home in the middle of the night. “It hit you in the face,” she recalled.

“It was intense,” Pinson said, recalling what happened just before 1 a.m. on Feb. 9, 2021, near Hale and Butler streets. “My stomach hurts.”

Authorities received a call from Pinson at 12:58 a.m. after she exited 455 Hale Street, and shortly thereafter witnessed a fire and police units outside a duplex at 453-455 Hale Street. .

About 15 and a half months later, on May 26, 2022, the duplex exploded.

Thursday night before Memorial Day, a devastating explosion at 453 Hale killed four children and an adult, hurled debris through the walls of nearby homes, and killed workers. It inflicted a deep wound on the psyche of the class community.

No description has been published.

Both propane and natural gas were being scrutinized as possible culprits in early June, borough fire chief Frank Hand said at the time. Since then, investigative agencies have said little publicly.

But other broader questions also plague residents. Why has the smell of gas been so frequent in neighborhoods near the duplex over the years, and why has nothing been done to stop it?

Wake-up Call interviewed 17 people, including Pinson, who said they often smelled gas in the area in the weeks, months, or years before May 26.

There was no public indication from investigators whether those odors were related to the explosion.

A wake-up call learned of the location and nature of Pinson’s report to authorities in Pottstown’s response to the newspaper’s Right to Know request. The paper’s attempts to obtain similar Montgomery County emergency records over several years have been unsuccessful.

Among the 17 were an ambulance supervisor who lived next door to the ill-fated duplex, a local resident who walked his dog, a teenager who walked to school in the area, and even a husband and wife. It even included the former mayor who was taking a walk.

All got used to the smell. They were often concentrated at the intersection of Hale Street and Butler Street.

“I think I smelled it every time I walked my dog,” said Brittany Lyric, a homeowner on nearby Jefferson Avenue. Jefferson Eunice, who has lived on her avenue for nearly 40 years, says her Ms. Roma, “Sometimes it smells awful, other times it doesn’t at all.”

Nearby gas services are provided by PECO, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp.

Company spokesperson Greg Smore responded to written questions about the persistent gas odor, referring to a previously issued statement.It did not address the long-term odor.

PECO said, “We have found no evidence that our facility caused this incident, and there is no record that 453 and 455 Hale Street were supplied with PECO natural gas.”

An intact propane tank was visible through the rubble after the explosion.Philadelphia Inquirer Reported Propane Distributor Amerigas We confirmed that one of the tanks was in the house that exploded.

An AmeriGas spokeswoman was asked about the long-term gas odor but declined to answer “because this is still under investigation.” has been entrusted.

The PUC on Wednesday indicated it could not provide an update.

About 10 days after the explosion, PECO was called to the neighborhood when gas odors were reported near Hale and Jefferson streets, about a block away from the blast site.

The crew excavated the streets and made repairs.

“I could smell them before they came,” said Johnny Corson, who lives near the intersection.

Both natural gas and propane stink because they have additives in them for safety reasons.

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety investigator and chemical engineer in Redmond, Washington, said after an explosion like the one that rocked Pottstown, it’s not surprising that many people remember smelling gas before it happened. said that.

“It may or may not indicate a problem,” he said. “I’m not disrespecting them, but the smell of gas may not have anything to do with this particular tragedy.”

More importantly, Kuprewicz said, how many people actually reported the odor to authorities before the explosion.

Of the 17 people interviewed by The Morning Call, at least four said they had called.

Others said they didn’t report the odor but were sure others did.

Former mayor Sharon Thomas, who finished her second term in 2017, lived on Butler Avenue next to the building that exploded. Her house is a total loss.

She said she was walking at the intersection of Hale and Butler with her husband, Barry, and occasionally smelled gas. Ms. Thomas said she saw others calling authorities when they smelled gas.

Nonetheless, she said gas odors “never came to the fore as a problem” in the four years that ended in 2017 as mayor.

Butler Street resident Tanya Johnson said she smelled gas at intersections more than once.

“We could smell it in the car and didn’t have to close the windows,” Johnson said.

Stephen Leonetti and his fiancé Rebecca Scott lived on Butler Street near Thomas. They both said they smelled gas and reported it.

Leonetti said the damage to his home could total about $200,000. The lack of public statements by investigators has made the neighborhood nervous, he said.

“Everyone seems to care more about PR than the fact that the entire community is mourning and scared,” he said.

Ambulance company operations supervisor Tandra Lambert said, “Frustration. Anger. Feeling forgotten,” four months after the disaster.

Lambert, who lived with his 20-year-old son at 461 Hale Street until the blast made it uninhabitable, began calling authorities about gas odors near Hale and Butler when his son was a “little boy.” said.

She speculated that over the years she had called eight times about the smell. The response to the scene by authorities has generally been, “It’s fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

Wake-up Call has the right to seek “all 9-1-1 call activity to locations within the Borough of Pottstown, including the date, time, nature of the call, and dispatched unit or equipment” for 2020 and 2021. I submitted a request to know to Montgomery County. And the first half of 2022.

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The county issued a partial denial. It provided a list of police calls showing only the date and time of call, dispatch time, and arrival time, but did not indicate the reason for the call or the nature of the incident.

Melissa Meliewski, an attorney at the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said, “The fact that they don’t provide it upon request for the Right to Know is clearly inconsistent with the letter and intent of the Right to Know Act. “You need a good reason to deny access. They haven’t provided one.”

Wake Call has appealed the partial denial.

Pinson, who lives with her family in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, read Facebook posts from many people who had smelled the gas years before the explosion.

Most disturbing, she said, was the five deaths before the issue was brought to attention.

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” Pinson said. “They don’t have to die to do something.”

Wake-up call Capitol correspondent Ford Turner can be reached at: Residents near the bombed-out Pottstown home smelled gas for years. “It hit you in the face” – Wake Up Call

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