State could fine Con Ed in Floral Park gas explosion

By Howard Koplowitz

The state commission that oversees Con Edison may be fining the utility up to $1 million for the April 2009 gas explosion that killed a Floral Park mother of three if the company fails to prove four gas safety regulations it violated did not cause or contribute to the woman’s death.

Ghanwatti Boodram, 40, died after a gas explosion erupted in her home at 80-50 260th St. April 24.

Con Ed workers were at the site of the explosion before it occurred as they investigated gas odors on the block.

A report from the state Department of Public Service in November 2009 cited four violations of gas safety regulations on the utility’s part.

They included failures to vent enclosed spaces, including removing manhole covers, where gas is entering sewer or duct systems; to check all utility points of entry in the vicinity of an outside gas reading, when a leak investigation leads to the basement; to check adjacent homes for gas; to check for gas moving into adjacent manholes or service boxes and homes if gas is detected in a manhole, sewer manhole or in an electric manhole or service box and consult Con Ed’s computerized electric facility mapping system for buildings and structures connected to the electric subsurface structure.

Con Edison has 30 days from the issuance of an order to show cause to respond to the state Public Service Commission.

A spokeswoman for the commission said she did not know whether the order was issued, but said Con Ed’s response would be posted on the commission Web site.

If Con Ed cannot explain the four violations did not lead to Boodram’s death, the company faces a $1 million civil penalty, the commission said.

Boodram’s widower, Dindial Boodram, said he does not think a fine is sufficient.

“I think they should not only fine [Con Edison], I think somebody should be responsible. It’s like a crime was committed,” he said. “It’s not okay for something to happen like this.”

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said if Con Ed is fined, “it’s probably well-deserved. It boggles my mind that there wasn’t a better system in place.”

“There were a lot of screw-ups in the handling of the gas leaks,” Weprin said Monday. “But that’s hard to explain to the Boodram boys, who lost their mother.”

Boodram, a Guyanese immigrant, was survived by her husband, Dindial Boodram, and three sons — Ryan, Kevin and Chris.

Ghanwatti Boodram was the only one in the house at the time of the explosion.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) said Con Ed should be penalized.

“It should be a significant fine,” he said. “I think $1 million would be a good message to send to Con Ed. Obviously, they have to be more careful in the future. But that doesn’t change the fact that a life was lost here. [A fine] won’t bring back Mrs. Boodram’s life, but that should be enough of a deterrent.”

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), a leading critic of Con Ed, said the utility needs to overhaul its procedures.

“Three young boys will grow up without a mother because of Con Ed’s negligence,” he said in a statement. “While I’m glad to see the PSC finally taking steps to hold Con Ed accountable, significant reforms are needed before New Yorkers can live without fear of stray voltage, blackouts and explosions.”

Dindial Boodram said a vigil was planned for April 24 to mark the one-year anniversary of the explosion. He said it was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. at the explosion site with a special prayer recited at 4:50 p.m. — the exact time of the blast.

He has also sued Con Ed over the explosion but declined to talk about the suit.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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