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AT&T does not intend to immediately remove lead cables from Lake Tahoe

AT&T said on Tuesday it does not intend to immediately remove lead cables from Lake Tahoe pending further analysis, according to its court filing.

Shares of AT&T this week hit their lowest level in 30 years, after analysts downgraded the stock following a July 9 Wall Street Journal report that AT&T and other telecom companies have left toxic lead cables on poles, underwater and buried under ground. AT&T shares dipped 0.6% to close at $13.45 on Tuesday.

AT&T on Tuesday harshly criticized the newspaper’s reporting and testing, saying it “differs dramatically from the expert testing commissioned by AT&T.”

In Tuesday’s court filing, AT&T argued that lead-clad cables “make up a small part” of its network.

The company estimated that lead-clad cables “represent less than 10% of its copper footprint of roughly two million sheath miles of cable, the overwhelming majority of which remains in active service.”

The company added that more than two-thirds of its

lead-clad cabling “is either buried or in conduit, followed by aerial cable, and with a very small portion running underwater.”

The company in 2021 agreed to remove lead-clad telecommunications cables from Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada, to resolve a lawsuit despite its belief that they pose no danger.

A lawyer for the company said in the court filing after the Wall Street Journal report that the cables should remain “in place to permit further analysis by any qualified and independent interested party, including the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and allow the safety of these cables to be litigated with objective scientific evidence rather than sensationalized media coverage.”

A status conference is set for Thursday.

AT&T cited a letter to the EPA on Monday in which the non- governmental organization Environmental Defense Fund recommended the EPA “assess the condition of the underwater cables to determine their condition, their current and anticipated releases to the environment, and the risks posed by their removal or leaving them in place.”

Tom Neltner, Environmental Defense Fund’s Safer Chemicals Senior Director, told Reuters the group was referring broadly to the lead cable issue but not addressing whether the Lake Tahoe cables should be removed immediately. “The point is EPA needs to investigate, figure it out,” Neltner said.

The court filing on Tuesday asserted that the Wall Street Journal’s testing “was both funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and targeted on sites the Journal believed were most likely to obtain the result it wanted: high lead levels.”

Neltner, who has worked on lead issues for 20 years, said AT&T is wrong in its criticism. EDF’s goal was to use scientifically sound principles to determine the extent that lead-clad cables may pose health risks. “We didn’t presume any results and lord knows I did not want to find lead,” Neltner said.

Neltner said EDF provided funding to Marine Taxonomic Services in “looking for the pipes, identification and collecting samples. We did not pay for the analysis. We did not pick the lab – the Wall Street Journal did that.” Reuters

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