Millions of fire sprinklers recalled
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing a potentially deadly failure to activate during fires, the federal government, in cooperation with a private sprinkler manufacturing company, has announced the recall of millions of sprinkler heads used in schools, nursing homes, dormitories, supermarkets and office buildings.
Central Sprinkler Co., an affiliate of Tyco Fire Products LP of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, has agreed to replace 35 million of their fire sprinklers. Gem Sprinkler Co. and Star Sprinkler Inc. agreed to replace about 167,000 of their sprinklers. There will be no charge to consumers for the replacement.
This is the third largest replacement program in the history of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The apparent sprinkler problem has been tied to a fatal fire last year, according to both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Central Sprinkler.
One woman was killed and two people were injured in the February 27, 2000, fire in which four sprinkler heads failed to activate in a Philadelphia-area nursing home.
The dead woman and her injured sister lived in an apartment adjacent to the nursing home. A firefighter also was injured.
"I am pleased that Central is voluntarily undertaking this major program pro-actively to replace sprinklers nationwide and protect consumers from the risk of fire," Ann Brown, chairwoman of the commission, said in a statement.
Agency officials said the company notified the CPSC of the potential problem.
The potential defect with the sprinklers, which are also used in parking garages and warehouses, involves what is called the O-ring seal. These rubber seals can degrade over time from contact with minerals, salts and other contaminants in water, and that corrosion can cause the sprinkler heads not to activate. The replacement sprinklers will not use O-ring seals.
A spokesman for the commission said up to 40 percent of the sprinklers are subject to potential failure, according to projections.
"This is a matter of concern, but not of panic," Brown said. "The fact is that most of the sprinklers, most, are working."
Central Sprinkler said it had received 13 reports of sprinklers failing to activate during fires, resulting in two property damage claims against the company, according to a press released from the commission. Asked whether the incidents involved any injuries or deaths, the commission and the company both cited the Pennsylvania fire incident.
The replacement program involves two kinds of sprinklers, "wet" and "dry." As the names imply, wet sprinklers are installed in pipes filled with water, while dry sprinklers are used in piping that does not contain water.
The water supply for dry sprinklers is located away from the sprinkler heads in heated areas to prevent freezing pipes from rendering the sprinklers useless.
The incident near Philadelphia involved dry sprinklers, which a company spokesman said are used far less than wet sprinklers. Of the 13 incidents, nine involved dry sprinklers.
Thirty-three million of the "wet" sprinklers with O-rings in question were manufactured from 1989 until 2000. Another 2 million "dry" sprinklers with O-rings were manufactured from the mid-1970s to June 2001. The 167,000 sprinklers with O-rings manufactured by Gem Sprinklers Co. and Star Sprinkler Inc. were made from 1995 to 2001.
The sprinkler heads in question have the words "CENTRAL" or "STAR," the letters "CSC," the letter "G" in triangle, or a star-shaped symbol stamped on either the metal sprinkler frame or on the deflector. The deflector is the gear-shaped metal piece at one end of the sprinkler head.
According to the CPSC press release, laboratory tests found that most of the sprinkler heads would function during fires, but "certain tested heads required higher water pressure to activate than may be available in particular buildings." The replacements will be phased in according to priority determined by the age of the sprinklers, their condition and the population affected. Nursing homes and hospitals, for example, will be given priority.
Consumers can call 1-800-871-3492 for more information on how to identify sprinklers covered in the replacement program. Information is also available at the Web site: www.SprinklerReplacement.com The commission and the company recommended that consumers and building owners inspect their sprinklers and replace the sprinkler heads at least every 10 years.
--CNN Consumer Safety Editor Julie Vallese contributed to this report
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