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With Baltimore Block in Tatters, Senators Seek Answers on Another Major Gas Explosion

With a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood picking up the pieces after a gas explosion Monday destroyed three homes, killing one person and seriously injuring seven others, Maryland’s two U.S. senators are still seeking answers about another gas explosion that shattered a Maryland neighborhood — four years to the day before the Baltimore blast.

Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) wrote Monday to Howard “Skip” Elliott, administrator of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, asking him to provide details on steps federal regulators are taking to avoid a repetition of the deadly gas explosion in Silver Spring’s Flower Branch Apartments, which killed seven people, including two children.

The explosion four years ago was blamed on a faulty mercury gas regulator, which is commonly found in houses and apartment buildings built before 1960. Specifically, the senators asked Elliott about closer monitoring of the regulators and stronger safety regulations, along with the possibility that these devices can be placed outside rather than inside buildings.

In its investigation of the blast, the National Transportation Safety Board found that, had service regulators been located outside the building where the explosion occurred rather than inside, the explosion would have been avoided, because gas would have vented to the atmosphere and dissipated.

“The loss of life and the suffering that resulted from this accident are a tragedy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Our constituents reasonably expect the buildings they occupy to keep them safe, not pose life-threatening dangers. We must honor the victims and their loved ones with a determined effort to improve safety and minimize the risk of such an accident ever occurring again.”

Baltimore City Fire Department spokesperson Blair Adams said the exact cause of Monday’s blast, which happened just before 10 a.m., was under investigation, but called it “a major gas explosion.”

Baltimore Gas & Electric officials said in a statement that they got a call from the fire department just before 10 a.m.

“We are on the scene and working closely with the fire department to make the situation safe. Crews are working to turn off gas to the buildings in the immediate area. Once the gas is off, we can begin to safely assess the situation, including inspections of BGE equipment,” the utility said.

Cardin and Van Hollen were among the many Maryland leaders who mourned the death and injuries caused by Monday’s explosion — though they were the only ones to link it to the Flower Branch blast.

“We want Marylanders to be safe in their homes,” they said in a statement.

This story includes reporting from our news partner, WTOP.

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