US EPA plans to hold meetings with AT&T, Verizon on lead telecom cables

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Thursday it is seeking meetings this month with AT&T and Verizon as it continues to closely review the potential impact of lead-containing telecommunications cables.

EPA has conducted independent sampling in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Louisiana and to date has seen “no immediate threats that would require emergency or urgent removal actions,” the agency said, adding it expects to collect more data early this year to better characterize concentrations of lead near cables.

The EPA testing was prompted by an investigation by the Wall Street Journal of lead covered telecommunications cables across the United States. AT&T and Verizon fell after the newspaper reported the anticipated meetings, with AT&T closing down 3.8% and Verizon down 3%.

AT&T and Verizon declined to comment and referred questions to industry trade group USTelecom, said the “companies requested to meet with the agency to discuss the technical results when they submitted them last year. There is still a desire to do so.”

The group added “the bottom line is that the test results continue to show telecom lead-sheathed cables pose no significant public health risk.”

The EPA added “while some locations sampled show concentrations above screening levels for long term exposures, existing data is not sufficient to determine whether lead from the cables poses a threat, or a potential threat, to human health or the environment.”

The EPA said its investigation “will include developing multiple lines of evidence to assess whether the lead present in soils and water is attributable to the lead cables.”

In July, shares of AT&T fell to their lowest levels in thirty years, after analysts downgraded the stock following the report that it left toxic lead cables buried across the United States.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Aurora Elis)