“We’ve always done the right thing related to lead cables,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey on the company’s second-quarter earnings call today. “We’re doing the right thing today based on current science and protocols, and we’ll do the right thing should current scientific technology develop new and reliable evidence that warrants a change in approach.”
The comment came in response to allegations made by the Wall Street Journal stating that decades-old lead-clad cables can degrade over time, potentially posing a public health risk. Those cables haven’t been used since the 1950s or 1960s and, according to Stankey, they represent a small portion of the company’s network. Where they do exist, they are primarily installed underground and are encased in conduit, he said.
The telecom industry isn’t the only one with lead-clad cables, Stankey noted.
“It’s well understood that lead-clad cables are used broadly in our nation’s infrastructure today,” Stankey said. “From power cables to telecom cables, lead has been used to protect interior wires from exposure to the elements because lead is very stable and doesn’t rust.”
“Lead-clad cables are so durable that they continue to be used in our power grid, in our railway systems and, in our industry, some of these cables still provide important services, including connecting 911 service, fire alarms and external monitoring stations.”
Regulators have been aware of the lead-clad cabling for years and “its risks and exposure to those in close contact to it has been regulated by state and local authorities for decades,” Stankey said.
According to Stankey, “Independent experts and long-standing science have given us no reason to believe these cables post a public health risk and our own prior testing confirms the established science.”
This is an apparent reference to studies that the company undertook in response to a lawsuit filed by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance alleging that lead-clad cabling installed underwater in Lake Tahoe poses a public health risk.
Moving forward, Stankey said, “We believe a deliberate review in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and industry partners with reliable science at the forefront is the responsible way to evaluate this issue.”
He said AT&T is working cooperatively with the EPA to “provide the information needed to conduct a thorough assessment using the most up-to-date reliable science.”
Stankey pledged that “If there is new and reliable information for us to consider, we will constructively work with others in our industry, scientific experts and government agencies to do what we have always endeavored to do, which is act responsibly.”
A replay of the earnings call, where Stankey made his comments, is available at this link.