HEALTH, SAFETY TOXINS

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     HEALTH,
     SAFETY
     & TOXINS
     One industry watcher who asked not to be identified
     concluded recently that people die from inhaling toxic gasses, not
     smoke. He also waded into the FT-4 vs. FT-6 debate saying that none of
     the proponents of the more expensive FT-6 discuss toxicity, only smoke.
     B y Pa u l B a r ker


     T
              hree years ago at the National Electrical Contractors      jackets tend to break down over time. This
              Association’s VDV/IBS Conference in Las Vegas, Frank       decomposition process is accelerated by exposure
              Bisbee, president of the Communications Planning           to increased temperatures and humidity.”
     Corp., in Jacksonville, Fla., talked about the inherent dangers         In Canada, a requirement was added to the
     caused by abandoned cable and the opportunities available to        2005 version of the National Fire Code to control
     contractors as a result of sweeping changes contained in the        the accumulation of communication cables and
     latest version of that country’s National Electrical Code.          other abandoned cables in plenums. Then again,
         Soon after its arrival, Henkels & McCoy, a privately held       according to some experts in the field, the
     engineering, network development and construction firm              standards fiasco is a mute point for whether it is
     with headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa., issued an advisory in          abandoned or live cable, the problem is not how
     which it noted that electricians, inspectors and low voltage        big a fire/smoke risk they are, but how high or
     contractors will use NEC Codebook 2002 for installation             low the toxicity levels might be.
     and inspections, while lawyers and insurance companies use              As one industry watcher who asked not to be identified
     it to determine criminal liability and/or financial                 concluded recently, people die from inhaling toxic gasses,
     responsibility resulting from a catastrophic event. The NEC         not smoke. He also waded into the FT-4 vs. FT-6 debate
     defines abandoned cable as installed communications cable           saying that none of the proponents of the more expensive
     that is not terminated at both ends at a connector or other         FT-6 discuss toxicity, only smoke. There are, he added, a lot
     equipment and not identified “For Future Use” with a tag.           of myths and half-truths on this subject.

                                                                         Toxicity testing needed
         Bisbee, for one, applauded the move. “The accumulation
     of miles and miles of cabling left in the ceilings and walls of
     facilities has become a major concern for life safety over the      Dunn Harvey, a veteran telecommunications consultant based
     past years,” he said in his presentation to NECA delegates.         in Laval, Que., agrees that the real problem is toxicity and not
         “Cables that are abandoned in ceilings, riser systems and air   smoke by itself.
     handling systems are a source for fueling fire, smoke and sub-          “In most cases (except fog) smoke will contain
     lethal toxic fumes that can incapacitate. In addition, PVC          numerous toxic gasses. In all cases of fire, carbon monoxide


     16    CNS    March/April 2007                                                                                  www.cnsmagazine.com
is generated. This is extremely lethal and it is next to            also allowed the machines to run faster when they were
impossible to prevent it in any fire and it does not depend         extruding it.”
on cable having FT-4 or FT-6 rating.                                   “Now, about 90% of all that cable installed the air systems
    “Since the real problem is toxicity, until someone finds a      are jacketed with materials that have high concentrations of
way to test for toxicity and eliminate the toxicity, there will     lead — anywhere from 7-10%. Even at 1%, which would be
not be a real answer to people dying from inhaling gasses           many, many times over what the U.S. Environmental
and smoke.”                                                         Protection Agency (EPA) is saying exposure limits are, we are
    Nova Scotia native Bill Graham, the founder of Mississauga      looking at more than 10,000 parts per million.”
Training Consultants, an industrial skills training firm that          When it comes to abandoned cable, meanwhile, Robert
offers certification for fiber optic installers, instrumentation,   Horne, co-founder of the Attain Group, an Ottawa firm that
network cabling systems inspection and other industry specific      provides independent telecommunications consulting
courses for the electrical and communications industry,             services to both public and private real estate owners, federal
describes the current situation as quite a mess. He estimates       government departments, architectural and construction
that not only is 90% of cabling that is currently sitting           engineering firms, and tenants, follows a simple credo.
somewhere in ceilings not being used, but there is also                “If it is not used, it should be pulled out,” he says. “It’s
confusion over what type of cabling is acceptable.                  the same as leaving old wood and paper around that could
    “In Nova Scotia if you install data cable, first off you        catch fire. It’s an extra fuel that is not needed. The bottom
must have a license, secondly, you need a permit and third,         line is this: You have a fuel load in the ceiling and if it’s
it will be inspected,” says Graham, a master electrician by         abandoned, remove it.
trade. “The province has rules in their Electrical code that I         “As far as the toxicity of the cable is concerned, the
love, one of them being that every third tie wrap must be           National Fire Code allows for an FT-6 and FT-4 rating. If a
non-combustible and the cable bundle must have a separate           code change was to occur that says it must be this type of
attachment.                                                         cable, of course we would abide by it, but until that time, I
    “Unfortunately, we don’t have the same rules in other           would not advise anyone to change to low smoke, specialty
provinces. As an example, we have a network cabling                 cable that is very expensive.

                                                                    Few firms pull cable out
apprenticeship program in Ontario that is turning out some
real good apprentices, but they do not have any codes to work
to.” Section 54 and Section 60 have still not been reinstated       “If it is that much of an issue then I would say the legislators
in the Ontario Electrical Safety Code.                              and the people who make the changes to the code, should be
    Bisbee, meanwhile, says that when it comes to abandoned         making those changes. Why would I advise them to spend
cable as a health hazard there is no question that the              hundreds of thousands of dollars more for the wrong type of
situation in Canada mirrors that of the U.S. There is also          cable? It’s just a complete waste of money.”
similar confusion over the true letter of the law.                      If there is any doubt, Horne turns to a codes specialist in

Toxic nightmare
                                                                    order to get a proper interpretation of the building and fire
                                                                    codes currently in existence.
“First of all, the plenum issue in the U.S. is covered under a          Ross McCubbin, founder of Amik Technology, an IT
code that refers to this buildup of abandoned cable as a fire       consulting firm based in Thunder Bay, Ont. that specializes
hazard,” says Bisbee. “It is not primarily a fire hazard. It is a   in infrastructure building design, managed cable systems
toxic hazard.                                                       and telecommunications design and support, concedes that
    “Calling it a fire hazard is a neat way to try and hide the     few organizations pull cable out.
really big problem. The real problem is how many                        “Sometimes companies will move in and try and re-use
thousands and thousands of pounds of lead in those jackets          cabling, but more often than not when they move, especially
are sluffing off in the air system? The thermal plastics            rental properties, they tend to cut the wire across the cross-
containing lead stabilizers used in most cables are a               connect they had and away they go, which can render it
problem, nobody’s recycling it.                                     useless for the next guy,” he says. “It means there is a whole
    “What we have is a toxic nightmare. It’s like saying the        bunch of PVC and FEP cabling out there.
reason we are taking the asbestos out is because of the fire            “As those cables sit there, they are breaking down. A lot of it
hazard. That’s where we are right now. You can call it what         is generated by the decomposition of the jacket and it’s blowing
ever you want to call it, it’s the law of the land in this          around in the air spaces and eventually down on the people.”
country and many others that have adopted the National                  So what is it going to take to solve the abandoned cable
Electrical Code.                                                    crisis? McCubbin for one, advocates a combination of
    “In the cabling business, one of the components used in         increased education and legislation. “Education can go a
the stabilizer was lead. It was cheap, it was effective and it      long way,” he says. “Ideally, there should be a level playing
allowed the cable to last longer under heat and humidity. It        field from a code and quality control perspective.”


www.cnsmagazine.com                                                                                    March/April 2007     CNS 17