AT&T, Verizon and other telecom giants have left behind a sprawling network of cables covered in toxic lead that stretches across the US, under the water, in the soil and on poles overhead, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.
Photo Insert: The hidden source of contamination — more than 2,000 lead-covered cables — that hasn’t been addressed by the companies or environmental regulators.
As the lead degrades, it is ending up in places where Americans live, work and play, Susan Pulliam, Shalini Ramachandran, John West, Coulter Jones and Thomas Gryta reported for the Wall Street Journal.
The lead can be found on the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, the Detroit River in Michigan, the Willamette River in Oregon and the Passaic River in New Jersey, according to the Journal’s tests of samples from nearly 130 underwater-cable sites, conducted by several independent laboratories.
The metal has tainted the soil at a popular fishing spot in New Iberia, La., at a playground in Wappingers Falls, NY, and in front of a school in suburban New Jersey. The US has spent decades eradicating lead from well-known sources such as paint, gasoline and pipes.
The Journal’s investigation reveals a hidden source of contamination—more than 2,000 lead-covered cables—that hasn’t been addressed by the companies or environmental regulators.
These relics of the old Bell System’s regional telephone network, and their impact on the environment, haven’t been previously reported. Lead levels in sediment and soil at more than 48 locations tested by the Journal exceeded safety recommendations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At the New Iberia fishing spot, lead leaching into the sediment near a cable in June 2022 measured 14.5 times the EPA threshold for areas where children play.