AT&T Says Less Than 10% of Its Network Has Lead Covered Cables

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(Bloomberg) — AT&T Inc. says less than 10% of its nationwide copper-wire telecom network has lead-clad cables, addressing investor concerns over the extend of a potentially massive contamination situation and costly cleanup.

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The Dallas-based phone giant said lead-clad cables make up a “small part” of its network of about 2 million miles of cable. Of that, about two-thirds are “either buried or in conduit” followed by aerial lines on poles and a “very small portion” running underwater, according to a filing with the US District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The issue arose last week in a Wall Street Journal story that reported lead contamination in more than 2,000 telecom cables criscrossing the country, including at playgrounds, bus stops and waterways like the Detroit River in Michigan, the Passaic River in New Jersey and Lake Tahoe. AT&T said it “strongly disagrees with the Journal’s reporting.”

The filing on Tuesday is related to a 2021 lawsuit against AT&T by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance that’s seeking to have lead-covered cables removed from Lake Tahoe. AT&T wants to pause cable removal work and have experts assess the situation.

AT&T and peers Verizon Communications Inc. and Lumen Technologies Inc. operate some of the biggest networks in the US, and parts of those systems include lead-covered wires that date back to the early 20th century.

Verizon said Monday that it has started testing areas where lead from its cables was reported to be leaching into the ground and water in an effort to clarify the extent of the problem. AT&T and Verizon have fallen 14% and 10%, respectively, since the Journal’s story on July 9.

AT&T said it’s conducting additional tests including areas identified in the Journal report, and is offering free lead testing to any union employees who have worked with lead covered cables.

Other phone companies are providing lead disclosures as well. Regional phone service provider TDS Telecommunications LLC, a unit of Telephone & Data Systems Inc. announced Monday that it had found about 10 miles of its network had lead covered cables.

Case is California Sport Fishing Protection Alliance v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co., 2:21-cv-00073, US District Court, Eastern District of California.

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