CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - There is a growing danger that lies below the places we live, work, and play. A danger that, quite frankly, we weren't even aware of until now. More and more, when a utility installs new pipes or fiber optics, they use a horizontal trenchless boring process. Basically, boring blindly, potentially into an existing sewer line. This creates the condition known as a cross bore.
Chief Investigative Reporter, Carl Monday, spoke with Danny Hixon, owner of Cross Bore Consultants. Hixon describes a cross bore as any unintentional intersection between two underground utilities. Cross bores can occur just about anywhere.
"We've identified cross bores in laterals, sewer laterals belonging to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, airports. Found one in a stadium," said Hixon. Usually cross bores aren't found until someone, typically a homeowner, calls a plumber to unclog a backed up sewer. And that's where things get interesting.
Greg Faustina, owner of The Plumbing Source, weighed in on safety concerns for his crews and others in the industry. "It's a big concern of ours because we're snaking sewers on a daily basis, and you can cut into them," Faustina said.
That's exactly what happened when a plumber, not affiliated with The Plumbing Source, was unclogging a basement drain in Middletown, OH. He had no idea a gas utility company had previously bored into a sewer line. Luckily, the plumber got the family out of the house just moments before the house filled with gas and exploded.
Experts estimate a cross bore could be sitting underneath one of every 25 homes across the nation. So how do you know if a cross bore danger is lurking in your basement, and where have they already been found?
Monday and his investigative team asked about 60 local communities that question.
Last year in Bay Village, several homes were evacuated after a gas line was ruptured. A cross bore was to blame and a near disaster averted. Five months later, in North Royalton, a utility crew bored through a sanitary line. In Westlake, four cross bores have been uncovered in recent years. One, by utility workers digging outside the home of Robert Catino. Mr. Catino said he was never told about the cross bore, until notified by Cleveland 19 News.
"After you explained to me what could happen, yes, it's very frightening," said Catino.
In written statements, Columbia Gas and Dominion East Ohio say they have specific standards to prevent cross bores, and quickly repair them when found. In all of the cases mentioned above, each was repaired immediately upon discovery.
But even when a utility immediately discovers it bored through another pipe, it doesn't mean the danger doesn't exist. In South Carolina, when a utility identified a cross bore and began to repair it, leaking gas ignited, causing a fire ball that put workers lives at risk.
Even when cross bores are found, the Ohio Public Utilities Commission admits it doesn't keep any records. So, the PUCO has no idea of the extent of the problem in our state, or where the danger most likely exists. That puts plumbers in the crosshairs of the cross bore crisis. By the time they're called, even a drain camera can't see past all the backed-up sewage.
"We keep our fingers crossed, and we're aware if we start hitting something. It might be another pipe," said Faustina.
So what can you do to find out if a cross bore lies beneath your property? A good idea would be to hire a professional plumber or call your gas utility. It might be the best advice we heard, to get ahead of what some are calling a ticking time bomb.
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