WASHINGTON — Plastic pipe makers, federal officials and furnace manufacturers announced a $100 million effort Feb. 24 to replace faulty vents that can leak deadly carbon monoxide, ending 18 months of difficult talks between industry and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The high-temperature plastic venting pipe industry and home heating companies have feuded in court over whether poor installation, poorly performing resin or improper pipe manufacturing are at fault, but CPSC is not assigning blame to any one factor, said Michael Gidding, a commission lawyer.
``This is a very, very complex issue,'' Gidding said. ``I don't think it is fair to characterize one factor'' as being the primary reason, he said.
He declined to release the results of the commission's testing of pipes.
Installation, fabrication or the temperature at which furnaces operate all could cause problems, Gidding said. CPSC's chief goal has been getting the pipes out of the medium-efficiency furnaces they have been used in, he said.
The pipes have been linked to four deaths in the United States — two in Little Switzerland, N.C., in November 1994 and two in Hibbing, Minn., in February 1995. Each of those deaths was caused by poor installation, he said.
The agreement calls for 27 companies, including pipe manufacturers Plexco Inc. in Bensenville, Ill., and Hart & Cooley Inc. of Holland, Mich., to pay as much as $400 per home to replace pipes installed in an estimated 250,000 homes between 1987 and 1993. They will be replaced with double-walled metal pipe. The industry has set up a hotline, (800) 758-3688, staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST, seven days a week.
Canadian regulators banned HTPV pipes in 1994. CPSC, based in Bethesda, Md., began its investigation in the spring of 1995, Gidding said. The commission was not able to act until now because the technical issues were complex and competing interests among the companies were difficult to resolve, he said.
Another pipe make, Selkirk Inc. of Dallas, has been funding its own HTPV pipe replacement program since 1996. It expects to replace, at most, pipes in 1,000 homes because it entered the market just as the issue heated up, said Catherine Bracken, Selkirk's associate general counsel.
The firm believes the pipes are safe for furnaces but found that silicone used to seal pipe joints could be weakened by flue gases and leak carbon monoxide, she said. Selkirk now makes its pipes with a different resin and sealant.
Plexco, a division of Chevron Corp. of Houston, sued GE Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass., in late 1995, accusing GE of improperly saying its Ultem resin could be used for these pipes, according to Chevron spokesman Mike Marcy.
GE Plastics is not participating in the CPSC-organized program because the problems are not related to the resin, a GE spokesman said. GE has maintained the problems stem from poor installation.
GE and Chevron are trying to mediate their dispute to keep it from going to trial and should know by the end of April how successful that effort is, Marcy said.