The question has swirled since early July 2023, when a Wall Street Journal report raised concerns about 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 Verizon's earnings call on July 25, 2023, and here are five things the telecom company's CEO and CFO had to say about potential lead cables in its network.
1. The overall Verizon lead cable situation
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said: "I want to address the recent news about the legacy lead cable in our network. We take these matters seriously, and to be very clear, lead infrastructure makes up a small percentage of our copper network, and we began phasing away from installing new lead cable by the 1950s. At Verizon, the communities we serve and our employees are at the heart of everything we do and we're using a fact and science-based approach in our assessment."
2. How much legacy lead sheath cable is in Verizon's copper network?
Verizon CFO Tony Skiadas said:
"We still have some legacy lead sheath cable in our copper network. As a result of the age of this infrastructure and the history of the industry, records are incomplete as to exactly how much of the cable at our network has led sheathing."
"However, to give you a sense of the scale of the infrastructure we are talking about, our copper network is comprised of less than 540,000 miles of cable, roughly half of which is aerial, and lead sheath cable makes up a small percentage of our copper network. This number excludes the network elements previously owned by MCI and XO Communications because we are still reviewing the historical records of those companies."
3. What is the likelihood that Verizon employees, workers or the public were exposed to the lead sheath cable?
Skiadas said: "When not disturbed, the likelihood of exposure to lead from lead sheath cables is low. In addition, because the lead sheath cable was used as a feeder and distribution cable and does not run into individual homes or apartments, it is generally in locations that minimize the potential for public contact. We are working with a third party expert to conduct our own testing at our sites that were identified by the media. We will not have the results of our testing for several weeks. When we have the results of our testing, we will work closely with our industry and others to address any concerns and issues."
4. How much will it potentially cost for Verizon to remove the lead sheath cable from its network?
Skiadas said: "Given where we are in this process, it is far too soon to make any projection on what the potential financial impact might be to the company. There are a number of unknowns in this area, including whether there is a health risk presented by undisturbed lead sheath cable, and if there is a risk, how that risk should be addressed. As a result, we do not believe there's a meaningful way to estimate any potential cost to the company or that any such estimate would even be useful."
5. What steps is Verizon taking to protect workers, and has the company ever seen any claims from workers on lead poisoning?
Skiadas didn't answer question directly. Instead, he said: "We continue to work across the company and continue to take a methodical approach. We're not going to get into any specifics around employees or anything, but as we said, we'll keep you posted as we learn more."