AT&T Lead-Clad Cables FAQ: CEO John Stankey Statements About Telecom Network
July 26, 2023 by Joe Panettieri
How is AT&T navigating media concerns about potential toxic lead cables in its network? AT&T CEO John Stankey (pictured, top of page) offered some updates and perspectives during the telecom company's earnings call on July 26, 2023.
Media concerns about lead-clad cables have swirled since early July 2023, when a Wall Street Journal report reported that some U.S. telecom networks containing toxic lead cables. Telecom companies laid the lead cables decades ago and thousands were left behind, posing a hidden health hazard today, the report said.
Fast forward to AT&T's earnings call on July 26, 2023, and here are five things CEO John Stankey had to say about lead-clad cables in AT&T's network.
1. On the History of Lead-Clad Cable Use in the Telecom Industry
Stankey said: "As background, it’s well understood that lead-clad cables are used broadly in our nation’s infrastructure today. From power cables to telecommunication cables lead has used to protect interior wires from exposure to the elements, because lead is very stable and it doesn’t rust. The practice is long been known and its risks of exposure to those in close contact to it has been regulated by Federal and State authorities for decades. Generally the telecommunications industry began to phase out placement of new lead-clad telecom cables in the 1950s. However, lead-clad cables are so durable that they continue to be used in our power grid, in our railway systems and in our industry and some of these cables still provide important customer voice and data services, including connecting 911 service, fire alarms, and other central monitoring stations."
2. On the concerns raised by The Wall Street Journal's report on lead-clad telecom cables
Stankey said: "We take the concerns raised very seriously as there is no higher priority than the health and safety of our employees and the communities where we live and work period. We believe that a deliberate review in collaboration with the EPA and our industry partners with reliable science at the forefront is the responsible way to evaluate this issue. Independent experts, longstanding science have given us no reason to believe these cables pose a public health risk. In our own prior testing which we shared publicly confirms the established science. Still, to be responsive to any concerns raised by recent reporting, we're doing additional testing at selected sites and we're working cooperatively with the Environmental Protection Agency to provide them the information needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the issue using the most up to date reliable science."
3. On AT&T's work to keep employees safe
Stankey said: "We're very proud of our track record, along with our union partners in addressing employee safety for those who perform maintenance and repair work on these cables. We fully comply with the established regulatory standards and science related to potential lead exposure for workers and meet or exceed state and federal OSHA requirements for our employees who work with lead.
In the abundance of caution, one extra measure we've taken is to expand our existing practice of providing testing for employees involved in cable removal, and have added a voluntary testing program for any employee who works with or has worked with lead-clad cables. We're offering the testing on company time and at company expense. Rest assured, that if there's 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 always endeavor to do, which is act responsibly.
4. How much lead-clad cable is in AT&T's network?
AT&T previously said that lead-clad cables make up a small part its network with the majority underground encased and protective conduit. Stankey did not provide a more specific estimate during the earnings call.
5. Has AT&T ever faced material claims involve lead in its networks harming people?
AT&T has not disclosed anything out publicly about claims, because there hasn't been anything material to disclose, Stankey said.