“When electrical cables underneath manhole covers become damaged, the covers can become electrified and a person can be electrocuted,” says Larry Jordan, a consultant and engineer with Energy Systems, LLC, in Mahopac, N.Y. Jordan is the inventor of a composite manhole cover that prevents shocks and burns if touched, as do other composite covers. The difference is that Jordan’s cover is heavy — a rarity in the composite cover industry. The company received a patent for the invention in April.
Jordan’s design is a composite matrix surrounding an aggregate. “We put in stone, essentially, and we surround that aggregate with a fire retardant epoxy mixture.” When tested at 100,000 pounds of load, he says the cover survived.
Reducing injuries to pedestrians requires a public perception of the need for composite covers, says Jordan. “I hate to see it driven by lawsuits, but unfortunately, that’s what germinated the idea for the aggregate cover. I’m not a fan of that. I’d like to see it as a technical, real issue needing a solution.”
Two tragedies involving manhole covers in New York City garnered heavy news coverage in 2004 by the New York Times. In January of that year, Jodie Lane died from stepping on a damaged Con Edison junction box. The second mishap occurred in later that year when Elizabeth C. Wallenberg fell off her skateboard, landing atop a steam pipe cover. After receiving emergency treatment for severe burns, she was left with an unhappy reminder of her fall. A portion of the Con Edison logo had been branded onto her backside, according to documents filed with The New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, in July 2005.
Following Wallenberg’s fall, Con Edison began sealing steam manhole covers with epoxy. The utility also paid over $7 million in a settlement with Lane’s family, according to the New York Times. Following Lane’s death, Con Edison employees subsequently discovered over 1,200 stray-voltage sites in the city.
For five years municipalities have restrained spending, says Jordan. “It’s hard to beat cast iron, until you are faced with a situation where you need an alternative,” says Jordan. “No matter what it costs, it is still an issue, because it’s a cost they wouldn’t have to incur if they did not do anything. So, it has to be an overwhelming need that comes along.”
Safety concerns continue to be a major driver of the pipe-hole composite industry, says Jim Goodman, President of Fibrelite Composites USA, in Pawcatuck, Conn. “We sell a lot of composite covers in the steam industry, where they are extremely concerned about a conducting heat surface. There’s been quite a bit of innovation in composite manhole covers, primarily from a design standpoint,” as the industry invests in stronger, more anticorrosive materials, he says.