The U.S. telecommunications industry takes the health and safety of our workers, neighbors, and the communities in which we live and operate very seriously.
- Risks associated with legacy lead-sheathed telecom cables are mitigated by the nature of the material, their location, coatings on them, conduits surrounding them, and other factors. Legacy lead-sheathed telecom cables make up a small portion of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure network. Telecom cables are generally in locations that minimize the potential for public contact.
- And safe work practices within the telecommunications industry have proven effective in reducing potential lead exposures to workers.
- Regulators have been focused for decades on the primary and largest sources of lead in the environment. These efforts have been highly effective, bringing national population lead levels in human blood samples down nearly 95% from the levels in the 1970s across all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- The U.S. telecommunications industry is a highly regulated industry, subject to local, state, and federal environmental and health and safety laws and regulations. The industry prioritizes worker safety through policies and procedures based on applicable laws and regulations.
- As a part of those efforts, our member companies also provide training, personal protective equipment or other equipment, and a means to report safety-related incidents and concerns to internal compliance teams to support the safety of our workers.
- Each company manages its own worker health, safety, and industrial hygiene program and several telecom companies provide voluntary lead testing to employees.
- Many considerations go into determining whether legacy lead-sheathed telecom cables should be removed or should be left in place, including those regarding the safety of workers who must handle the cables, potential impacts on the environment, the age and composition of the cables, their geographic location, and customer needs as well as the needs of the business and infrastructure demands.
- Additionally, several telecom companies are conducting additional testing for lead at specific locations.
We have not seen, nor have U.S. regulators identified, evidence that legacy lead-sheathed telecom cables are a leading cause of lead exposure or the cause of a public health issue.
- The presence of lead in soil, sediment, or water is not sufficient to conclude that the source of lead is telecom cables.
- Regulators have focused for decades on the primary and largest sources of lead in the environment, including lead from historic leaded gasoline and lead paint, electricity generation, mining, manufacturing, and recycling of lead, lead in various industrial processes and consumer products such as car batteries in hundreds of millions of vehicles nationally, lead in jewelry and toys, lead in ammunition and fishing gear, and many others, not to mention naturally occurring lead in soil and water. In fact, about 10 billion pounds of lead is mined annually for use in a wide array of applications.
- According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), most human exposure to lead occurs through inhalation and ingestion.
- We have been unable to confirm the information reported by the Wall Street Journal because we do not have access to all of the data or methodology underlying their conclusions.
A History of Telecom &
Our Investments in U.S. Connectivity and Safety
The use of lead alloys in telecom cables started in the 1880s as a way to sheath and protect copper wires from exposure to the elements because lead is very stable and does not rust. Lead was considered a state-of-the-art material and strong enough to guard the interior copper wires providing the critical communications infrastructure the public relied on – so strong that some of these telecom cables remain in use to this day.
The U.S. telecommunications industry began to phase out placement of new lead-sheathed telecom cables in the 1950s, after developing a new type of sheathing. Some legacy lead-sheathed telecom cables still provide customer voice and data services, including connecting 911 service, fire alarms, and other central monitoring stations.
As with many other types of infrastructure, such as rail lines and pipelines, in some situations, telecom cables are appropriately left in place when no longer in current use and may stand by to be used if and when needed.
Innovating for Communities
The U.S. telecommunications industry puts our core commitment to our customers, our communities, our employees, and our nation’s needs for connectivity first. For more than 100 years, our industry has connected people, businesses, communities, and first responders, while supporting our nation’s economy and critical infrastructure needs.
Our industry has focused enormous time and resources over decades innovating to develop and deploy new technologies that allow us to better serve and support the people and communities we operate in every day.
Our efforts prioritize the health and safety of our workers and focus on our shared commitment to deploying high-speed broadband to connect all communities across the country.
Through the broadband industry’s generational investments totaling more than nearly $2.1 trillion over the past 25 years, we are closer than ever to achieving universal coverage so all communities can reap the benefits and the opportunities of connection. In 2021, broadband providers invested $102.4 billion into the world-class networks and connectivity infrastructure enabling 92% of Americans to have high-speed internet to access health care, education, ecommerce, job training and more, no matter where they live.
These investments by U.S. broadband providers expand access, deliver competitive services, and improve connectivity that empowers communities every day.