Twenty individuals who claim that they suffered serious burns to their feet and legs from hot steam emitting from manhole covers in the city of Detroit have filed a claim against contractors who they say are to blame for the burns. According to the claim, the companies named in the complaint failed to control the steam emitted from boiling hot steam pipes beneath the Motor City's downtown streets. In addition to failing to control the team, the companies made no attempt to warn pedestrians about the dangerous burn risk.
Detroit Thermal LLC, Detroit Renewable Energy LLC, and Project Mist HoldCo LLC are named as defendants. Detroit Thermal is a company that provides heating and cooling to more than 100 buildings via an underground network in downtown Detroit.
Steam burns are a form of scald burns, which can be very serious depending on the extent of the injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), scald burns account for 33-50% of the types of burns for which Americans are hospitalized every year. According to the American Burn Association, the majority (85%) of these types of burns occur within the home. The severity of a scald burn can often be underestimated due to the fact that their physical appearance differs from other types of burns.
How common are steam burns from manholes? Maybe not as rare as you might think. Often the victims are young children. Last year, a toddler in Denver suffered second-degree burns to his legs and feet from the steam emitting from a downtown manhole. A local news station reporting on the story used an infrared temperature gun to measure how hot the manhole steam could be and obtained reading up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
The news station also found that this was not the first time a young local child had been injured in this manner. In 2007, a five year old boy also received similar injuries from manhole steam in downtown Denver. The company responsible for the Denver manholes issued a statement to the news, which read in part, "Typically, the steam venting in the street is from moisture that comes in contact with the underground steam pipes, from groundwater or melting snow or after a heavy rainstorm—and not from the steam system itself. Generally speaking, all release points from this condensate steams are located in places where pedestrians do not walk or stand for extended periods-in the middle of streets and not on sidewalks or crosswalks. Injuries from this type of incident are very rare, and pedestrians almost always take steps to avoid coming into contact with these locations."