After at least 11 confirmed incidents involving defective light poles, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on July 6 issued a repair notice covering more than 2,500 of the standards already placed in stadiums around the U.S. The poles, which typically weigh one to four tons and soar up to 135 ft above the ground, were manufactured by a now-defunct Texas firm, Fort Worth-based Whitco Co. LP.
There were no known injuries, but several close calls were reported. Last year, a pole crashed through a central Texas school-gym roof, causing significant property damage. More than 50 people were inside at the time. Forensic investigators found defective welds at the base of several poles.
From 2000 to 2005, Whitco delivered the steel support members to outdoor lighting contractors who, in turn, installed them on projects ranging from schools, parks and recreation fields to privately owned sport centers, seaside industrial ports and Army bases.
Alex Filip, CPSC spokesman, says the agency first announced an alert about the defective poles last year. Since that time, it learned that more poles were possibly defective. The most recent announcement, Filip says, underscores the agency’s “Hey, we really mean it” message.
CPSC has identified more than 750 locations across the U.S. where the affected poles were installed; about 150 of those are in Texas. The agency is urging facility owners to get a full inspection, including the lighting attached to and around the poles. “That extra step is really important,” Filip says.
Because Whitco Co. LP filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 in 2006, the owners and taxpayers will have to pay for replacements or repairs. Certain company assets were acquired in 2006 by American Technologies Group Inc., West Caldwell, N.J., through a new, wholly owned subsidiary, Whitco Poles Inc., according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. CPSC’s July recall states it does not affect products from Whitco Poles Inc.
Some owners have already inspected their poles. Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Carrollton, Texas, hired an independent engineer to evaluate all its light poles in spring 2010, according to a school district spokeswoman, Angela Shelley. The engineer found deficiencies in five poles. The district made temporary repairs and in August will make permanent repairs.
After a pole fell through the roof in March 2009 at the Jack C. Hays High School in Buda, Texas, officials immediately removed three remaining poles and replaced them with poles from a different manufacturer—at a cost of about $500,000, says Julie Jerome, school district spokeswoman. “The wind had been blowing for five or six days,” she says, “and that contributed to the decision to pull down the other three that night.” An inspection showed the removed poles had base fissures.