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Suit alleges neglect caused Manor Township natural gas explosion

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An aerial picture shows and destruction of the home where a natural gas explosion in 2017 killed Richard Bouder, a technician with UGI Utilities.
An aerial picture shows and destruction of the home where a natural gas explosion in 2017 killed Richard Bouder, a technician with UGI Utilities. - (Photo / )

The faulty design and installation of a piece of equipment connecting a natural gas line to a Manor Township home was to blame for the explosion that killed a UGI technician in 2017, a lawsuit filed last month alleges.

The suit - filed by Philadelphia law firm Ross Feller Casey LLP and representing Kim Bouder, the wife of the technician killed in the incident - argues the gas leak that caused an explosion at a cul-de-sac in Manor Township was partly attributable to design flaws in a Permalock mechanical tapping tee. The tapping tee was created by Honeywell International of Morris Plains, New Jersey.

In a statement, Honeywell rejected the claims.

"Honeywell takes the safety of our customers very seriously. We believe there is no merit to the claim and will defend ourselves vigorously in court," Honeywell said in a statement.

The explosion occurred during a natural gas leak in Manor Township that was being investigated by Richard Bouder, a technician with Reading based-UGI Utilities, along with two other UGI employees. After the UGI employees evacuated residents from the premises, the gas, which was highly concentrated at the site, ignited, injuring two UGI employees and ultimately killing Bouder.

The tapping tee was connected to the main gas line of the home and was sold to consumers with nylon bolts deficient in strength, according to the suit. 

"As a direct cause of the design defects with the tapping tee … the product was unsafe and unreasonably dangerous" the suit claims. "The products defects created the catastrophic and hazardous condition of a severe natural gas leak … and directly resulted in the July 2, 2017 explosion that killed Richard Bouder."

An examination of the tapping tee by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the equipment was not defective but that it was incorrectly installed. 

The suit claims that Honeywell failed to give instructions for the product that adequately helped a user install it safety. But the transportation board's preliminary report stated that Honeywell did not specify all of the details needed to install the part, and suggested that Honeywell should update the tapping tee's installation instructions.

The report suggested that Honeywell's instructions include a torque limit on the product's nylon bolts, but not that the bolts themselves were faulty.

Contractors Group Inc. of Wilkes-Barre, installed the tapping tee and is named as a defendant in the suit for failing to install the device properly.

Contractors Group was not immediately available for comment.

The suit also names PPL Corp. and PPL Electric Utilities Corp., alleging that the utility company failed to shut off the neighborhood’s power during the gas leak.

PPL Electric Utilities spokesman Joe Nixon said that PPL plans to defend itself in the suit.

"PPL Electric and UGI had a procedure in place concerning gas leaks,” Nixon said. "In this particular incident, PPL Electric was not notified of a gas leak by the gas provider, UGI, nor was any request made to PPL to turn off electricity in the area until after the explosion occurred."

Because UGI is being investigated for the incident, it declined to comment.

UGI Utilities is not mentioned as a defendant on the suit, but is facing a fine of about $2.1 million from the state Public Utility Commission and is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The PUC alleges that UGI failed to follow the correct procedures during the Manor Township incident, but the utility company has denied the allegations. The case is expected to go before an administrative law judge.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version to include comments from Honeywell International and the findings of a safety recommendation report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

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Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis covers health care and Lancaster County. Email him at ipashakis@cpbj.com.

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