A question on Plausibility: Sewer Leaks causing Deaths

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Sarahrizz

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Hey guys, I need your thoughts on a part of my piece.

My MC was orphaned as a young boy, and I discuss his backstory once in, what I'd put as the Mid-Beginning (CH. 3, the way it is now). There I discuss the events that lead to his current status once.

But then one day when Cassidy was seven his teachers pulled him and almost half of his schoolmates out of line for the buses to go home. Something had happened, and Cassidy knew it was bad, even then.

As Cassidy reminisced so did his mentor. Back then, Frederick Fodrey had only completed his training and passed his final bar exams one year prior. As an inexperienced lawyer in a large law firm he spent most of his time doing this and that for other lawyers. They say that you wait for your “big break” to really start your career, well, for Frederick, it happened quite literally. There was a break in the sewer-line that ran near a poorer section of the dome, and many residents were injured or died as a result. Those who survived had a lot of property damage. The dome officials in charge of the sewers were accused of dolling out restitution payments that were way too low. Most of the residents who lived in that part of town were too poor to make any commotion on their own, but this time, several residents had teamed up to form a joint lawsuit against the Dome Department of Public Works, from which the Sewers were run.

This is a small piece of the backstory I wrote where I go back and forth between both character's POV's. As you can read, there was a sewer "accident" that affected just the poorer sections, and which killed people. I also hinted here that this event was not just a once and done, but that it occurred multiple times. Now, much later in my story I am discussing this event again.

“I’ve been thinking I may have an example of real world evidence. Four through Eleven, twenty seven.” Said Benny.
Everyone knew what those numbers meant. Especially Cassidy. In the year 427 between April and November there were several breaks in the sewer-line that ran through poorer neighborhoods under the dome. One such break was so bad that it killed Cassidy’s parents, and about Thirty other people.
“As we repair it, I’m repeatedly seeing damage to other parts of the dome near where the break occurs. I’m willing to bet that our Dome’s sewer line goes past at least one of these projectors.” Benny Continued
“No, it can’t be that,” said Cassidy. “There were Six breaks, all within one year. The rates we’re looking at suggest one every decade, perhaps less.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re connected somehow. Those neighborhoods were all near the edge of the dome, weren’t they. Perhaps something damaged the system, and it led to the breaks later on.”
Cassidy was not willing to accept that the accident that killed his parents was caused by a random breakdown. He much preferred the widely accepted scenario that those managing the systems were at fault. They were not smart enough to do their jobs. Afterwards they increased the engineering requirements on the DREIT for that position, and assigned new supervisors. All of the existing employees were reviewed by the retirement board, which had the power to put inadequate employees into forced retirement.
“It’s worth considering,” said Ryan, and everyone except Cassidy nodded. “I heard most of those sewer lines were closed soon after. They were all really old and newer ones were being used in other parts already.”
“Still, It’s been a decade since they’ve had any similar issues, so whatever the cause, they’ve resolved it by now.” Said Ryan, when it was clear they were not going to persuade Cassidy. So at that the matter dropped and the others moved on.

Now the technical elements of the theory the characters are discussing is a bit much to go into here. But I did go into a bit more detail about the events here. Basically they are discussing trend noticed with a little model dome and a larger Dome, if it helps.

What I am wondering is about the element of the Sewer Break killing people. I did some research and there was an incident in Mexico where the sewer leak combined with faulty electronics to make an explosion that killed several people, and I could change my wording to reflect a similar set of events if I have to. But I don't want to complicate things by explaining too much if I don't have to. Does saying they died in a sewer leak lead you to imagine drowning in toilet water, and that gross you out too much? Is it even believable to you that it was more than a minor inconvenience?
 
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Maryn

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Since I've had friends whose married student housing was subject to repeated sewer leaks, so I know it's gross and disgusting but not lethal, you'd have to explain to me how it's fatal. Is it always going to be methane explosions? Why is it no vented there but vented properly elsewhere in the dome, and how does that even work? (And even if it's just sewage leaking, it's way, way more than a minor inconvenience. It ruins furniture, electronics, and textbooks, damages floors and floor coverings, and just totally disrupts one's life until everything it touched is either sanitized, if that's even possible, or replaced.)

Are you dead set on it being a sewer issue? I happen to live where there was a series of natural gas explosions many years before I moved here. Because an area house blue up yesterday, killing someone inside, the old incident was in the newspaper article:
A string of gas explosions and fires ripped through [redacted for Maryn's privacy] neighborhoods in September 1951 leaving three dead and dozens with no place to live. The incident was caused by over-pressurization of gas lines and stemmed from a series of mishaps involving RG& E equipment that knocked a regulator offline and increased pressure a hundredfold.

That sent gas surging into countless homes, where errant sparks or flames touched off numerous fires and explosions. Two children, ages 8 and 5, died when their Buckland Avenue home exploded. Another woman who lived on Antlers Drive died of a heart attack Thirty people were injured in all, 19 homes destroyed and 25 others seriously damaged.
That's pretty freakin' serious and might be even worse in a dome environment.

Maryn, who lives one street over from Antlers Drive
 

benbenberi

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Explosive leaks make me think of natural gas lines rather than sanitary sewers. Gas pipes leak all the time and sometimes cause catastrophes.

(Sometimes the catastrophe is caused not by a leak per se but by the gas pressure. I think that's what created the lots-of-houses-exploding problem near Boston a year or two ago.)
 
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Roxxsmom

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I'm more inclined to think of sewer leaks possibly causing disease outbreaks. There could be some deaths associated with those, but it would likely be a relatively small number of the people affected who would actually die--assuming access to modern health care, anyway. Unless it's a really spectacular disease.

I agree with others who suggest natural gas line leaks are a better candidate if you want an explosion. Sadly, this is altogether too plausible in these days of corporate greed, lack of oversight, and public neglect of infrastructure.

Fires are another thing that could cause lots of deaths in a densely packed housing situation. There was a tragic fire in Oakland a while back, affecting a former warehouse that had been converted to low-cost (and substandard) living space.

You may want to research historic building fires (the one that happened in London in 2017 comes to mind, though that was a high rise) and gas explosions. They are very plausible.

If you want it to be a sewer leak, like the one you mentioned in Mexico, mentioning that the gas exploded would dispel any worries about readers assuming people drowned in sewer water. Would the latter be "too gross"? Not really (that's always down to how you handle the details), but it's a matter of what readers perceive as plausible.
 
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frimble3

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I would think that 'drowned in sewer water' would be unlikely, except, perhaps, in basements in a flood, when the flow might be compromised. A lot of places run their sanitary sewers through the same pipes as the storm sewers (for getting heavy rainfall of the roads).
As others have said, I would be more inclined to link explosions to gas lines.
Either methane backing up from the sewage treatment plant, or from the regular gas lines for home use.
I would assume if there's a series of explosions, there might be some underlying cause, like aging infrastructure, or ground subsidence breaking lines.
 

Sarahrizz

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Thank you everyone. I think I will make it an explosion. I will also like to try to tie the source to both the sewers and gas/fuel lines, if I can. It would allow me to add the element afterwards that there were legal battles between the two to figure out who was responsible, It will fit my story so well. I'll have to do a little research first, of course, to figure out the details.
 

Sarahrizz

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Thank you again everyone. I have done some more research and have a new version of the backstory chapter. It is now a whopping 2,421 words, but I think it works. It still hasn't been self-reviewed yet, so I'm not going to share it yet. But thank you everyone.

I did some more research and found a few more case examples of sewers exploding due to hazardous materials being dumped. Then I used your suggestions to have a gas line be the main cause of lethal damage, when a minor explosion bursting a pipe damaged an unluckily too close fuel line pipe.

I like this version of my chapter better, because it allows me to go even closer emotionally to my MC and describing his classroom's reaction to hearing the distant boom.
 

Samscript

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Thank you again everyone. I have done some more research and have a new version of the backstory chapter. It is now a whopping 2,421 words, but I think it works. It still hasn't been self-reviewed yet, so I'm not going to share it yet. But thank you everyone.

I did some more research and found a few more case examples of sewers exploding due to hazardous materials being dumped. Then I used your suggestions to have a gas line be the main cause of lethal damage, when a minor explosion bursting a pipe damaged an unluckily too close fuel line pipe.

I like this version of my chapter better, because it allows me to go even closer emotionally to my MC and describing his classroom's reaction to hearing the distant boom.

This sounds good. I even liked your original version because an unforeseen catastrophe is often strange, and therefore, goes unseen. I'm not a tech stickler, so I have a pretty large capacity to suspend disbelief in my sci fi. I'm more of a stickler when it comes to human behavior because human behavior hasn't really changed much since the beginning of mankind. Thus, inappropriate dumping makes sense. Poor infrastructure design to save money makes sense. These are the types of things people have been doing for centuries.
 

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