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Editorial (May 01, 2003)

Our cover story, on health risks in the structured cabling industry is both informative and timely.Just days after author Perry Greenbaum filed his article, word came that the Environment Protection A...


May 1, 2003  


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Our cover story, on health risks in the structured cabling industry is both informative and timely.

Just days after author Perry Greenbaum filed his article, word came that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. is planning to conduct a preliminary risk assessment on a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFOA is an essential processing aid in the manufacturing of flouropolymers. DuPont, in turn, uses it in its fire-resistant material Teflon FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene), a resident used to jacket and insulate plenum cable.

The company was quick to respond following the EPA’s announcement saying that it remains confident that the use of PFOA over the past 50 years has not posed a risk to either human health or the environment and that its products are safe.

Richard Angiullo, vice president and general manager for DuPont Flouroproducts, said his confidence is based on an extensive scientific database that contains studies and worker surveillance data.

While these are still early days, findings from the EPA that would classify it as a health risk could have a profound affect on the structured cabling industry.

Among those who will be monitoring developments closely is Frank Bisbee, editor of Wireville, an industry newsletter based in Jacksonville, Fla., and formerly a proponent of FEP. He’s now in support of a “complete” investigative probe into PFOA as a result of the EPA’s recent stand.

“This is going to be a boon for the fiber folks, there’s no question about it,” he says. “Anything that you do that jacks up the cost of copper closes the gap between fiber and copper. The biggest problem we had in going Fiber to the Desktop was that you were still converting. In the back of my PC there’s no jack for fiber.”

In his May newsletter he writes that once before “we have seen” the effect of the law of supply and demand on Teflon in the cabling industry. “Several years ago, a shortage of Teflon jacked the prices for plenum cable up to astronomical levels.

“We cannot pretend that these outside events will not have serious repercussions on the cabling world. If the EPA’s investigation into Teflon toxicity reveals real problems, the shift to alternative materials may result in a much more desirable environmental impact.”

Still, in the U.S. at least, it will be left up to the EPA to decide the fate of PFOA in not just the structured cabling industry, but potentially many others. As an example, fluoropolymers are employed in hundreds of uses in industries ranging from aerospace, automotive and chemical processing to semiconductor and electronics.

At this point, all the agency is saying is that it’s interested in collecting additional information because studies have indicated that PFOA causes developmental toxicity and other effects in laboratory animals.

Stay tuned. This is one story that is not going to go away anytime soon. What happens in the U.S., will surely have an impact in this country.


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