Column: Working to improve safety, communication in light of gas disaster

(Reba Saldanha photo) U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford

Exactly one year ago today, unimaginable heartbreak struck the Merrimack Valley when a series of gas explosions claimed the life of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon and injured many more across the region.

Homes and business were destroyed, and thousands were forced to evacuate the area. For those of us who call this community home, we remember it like it was yesterday.

Perhaps adding to the pain is what we came to know in the weeks following — that this disaster could have been prevented.

Congress has no greater responsibility to the American people than to provide for their safety and security. When that security is threatened, we have a responsibility to act and to protect.

The citizens of our region were let down by a utility provider that was charged with delivering critical services, and they deserve answers. As one of this community’s elected representatives to Congress, I’ve made it my mission to track those answers down and translate them into policy prescriptions.

I am happy to report that we are making progress. Earlier this year I introduced, along with Sen. Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton, the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act.

The Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act draws upon the lessons from that awful day and puts in place measures that will prevent another such disaster.

To start, it requires better communications from the pipeline company to the first responders and the public. One refrain I’ve heard over and over is that no one knew what was happening or why or when it would stop. The new emergency response communication protocol established by this bill would ensure that the brave first responders who come to the rescue have the information they need, when they need it.

The bill also emphasizes safety measures designed to stop such disasters before they ever begin, such as requiring that pipeline projects earn the seal of a professionally licensed engineer.

The bill also requires onsite monitoring during construction to ensure that the gas can be cut off if there is a spike in pressure.

On Sept. 13, 2018, it took nearly 30 minutes from when the high-pressure alarms sounded until the gas regulator was closed. This is unacceptable.

Because of the cooperation of Massachusetts’ federal, state, and local officials, these important reforms are moving closer to becoming the law of the land. In Massachusetts, progress is already being made by the state government and private sector, and we are working to apply these lessons at the federal level from coast to coast.

Leonel Rondon’s sister, Lucianny, bravely testified at a Senate field hearing right here in Lawrence last November. She said, “We hope there will be justice for [Leonel] and the community. Nobody should ever have to go through what my family has gone through ever again.”

She is right.

Congress must act based on the lessons we have learned from this tragedy. I am proud to stand with Sen. Markey and Congressman Moulton to advance the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act to make sure that no other community goes through what Lawrence, Andover and North Andover went through last year.

My team and I have remained engaged in the recovery effort and will continue to be there to help those in need until the last claim is settled.

If you or anyone you know of needs assistance in recovering from last year’s gas explosions, please contact my office at 978-459-0101, or at Rep.LoriTrahan@mail.house.gov.

Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, represents the Merrimack Valley’s 3rd Congressional District.

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