Falling Stadium Light Poles Made by Defunct Texas Company Recalled

July 8, 2010

A government safety agency has announced a recall of light poles manufactured by a now-closed Texas company that can crack and fall after 11 of them crashed at stadiums and school gymnasiums over a decade-long period.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said there are more than 2,500 of the affected steel poles installed around the country. Manufactured by the defunct Whitco Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, the poles can weigh one to four tons.

The recall, which urges facility managers to bring in a professional to evaluate the poles and repair them as quickly as possible, affects poles between 70- and 135-feet tall made of steel with a galvanized coating. They were manufactured between 2000 and 2005.

The commission said no one has been killed by the falling poles, but several schools and outdoor bleachers have been “significantly” damaged. In several cases, spectators had left the scene moments before a pole crashed. The poles are primarily at sports stadiums, recreation centers and parks.

“This is a very serious situation with the potential for death,” said commission spokesman Scott Wolfson.

The agency’s investigation found 50 more Whitco-constructed poles that have fractures or cracks but have not yet fallen, and recommended all poles be inspected by an engineer. The agency previously warned owners about the poles’ dangers, but Wolfson said additional crashes convinced officials to issue the recall.

“A visual examination with the naked eye or with a magnifier will not determine the extent of any cracking,” the agency said in a news release.

The poles crash when the top fixtures are too heavy for the base. Because Whitco is out of business, individual owners of the poles are responsible for any inspections and damages that may occur, including replacement costs, according to the commission.

Wolfson said the inspections are worth the cost.

“It’s an investment in safety when one thinks about the consequences of a 75-foot pole that falls,” he said.

Two poles fell in central Texas, in the Hays and Round Rock school districts. Poles also have fallen in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

A suburban Dallas school district had four Whitco poles, and last April, three of them showed signs of cracking, said Julie Thannum, a spokeswoman for the Southlake Carroll school district. The school system spent $289,000 inspecting and replacing the four poles.

“The company was out of business and we have not had much legal recourse in the matter,” Thannum said. “Safety, however, was always our first priority.”

Wolfson declined to discuss whether former Whitco executives are cooperating with the investigation.

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