Failure to account for health impacts of lead-sheathed cables is “corporate irresponsibility of the worst kind”

Washington (July 12, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety and the author of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, wrote to the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) demanding answers to questions raised by a Wall Street Journal investigation that found detectable levels of lead contamination in water and soil samples collected near aging telecommunications infrastructure, specifically lead-sheathed cables, across the country. Lead exposure is known to cause serious damage to children’s development and is associated with chronic pain among adults, and miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth during pregnancy.

“The telecommunications companies responsible for these phone lines must act swiftly and responsibly to ensure the mitigation of any environmental and public health effects,” Senator Markey wrote in his letter to USTelecom. “This is corporate irresponsibility of the worst kind. […] The members of USTelecom that are responsible for these lead-sheathed cables have a duty — both civic and legal — to ensure that they do not put Americans in harm’s way. I will be awaiting answers to my questions, expecting further action and commitments from USTelecom’s members, and watching closely from my seats on Senate committees that have jurisdiction over the environmental and public health issues these cables present.”

Senator Markey requested that USTelecom respond to the following questions by July 25, 2023:
  1. Do the companies know the locations and mileage of lead-sheathed cables that they own or for which are responsible — whether aerial, underwater, or underground? Are there maps of the locations? If not, what plans do the companies have to identify the location of the cables?
  2. Why have the companies that knew about the cables — and the potential exposure risks they pose — failed to monitor them or act?
  3. What plans do the companies have to address the environmental and public health issues posed by the cables? Specifically, will the companies commit to:
    1. testing for soil, water, and other contamination caused by the cables?
    2. remediating any contamin?
    3. warning communities of the potential hazards the cables pose?
    4. guaranteeing medical treatment and compensation to anyone harmed by lead poisoning caused by the cables?
As a member of the House of Representatives, then-Representative Markey authored three of the nation’s governing telecommunications laws, including the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act, the 1993 law that moved more than 200 MHz of spectrum from government to commercial use, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996—promoting competition among telecommunications companies and expanding access with the creation of the landmark E-Rate program, connecting schools, libraries, and communities to affordable broadband.