Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers: Investigation Finds Decades of Danger

  If your home was built before 1990, it may have a faulty Federal Pacific circuit breaker and could be a fire risk. It’s a fact that has been known for years, but there has never been a recall.

  The “Stab-Lok” circuit breaker and panel produced by Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) installed in hundreds of thousands of homes may cause house fires, according to decades of documentation and electrical experts interviewed by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.  Stab-Lok circuit breakers are most commonly found in houses built before 1990.  

Information and lab tests uncovered by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit show many Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breakers will not trip, continuously providing electricity to the short circuit, which can cause intense heat and, in some cases, fire. When working properly, circuit breakers are designed to prevent fires.  They are designed to cut off the flow of electricity when charged with excessive electrical demand or short circuit, also known as “arching.”  


“There is no inconsistency and no dispute in the fact that they are defective,” says Jesse Aronstein, an engineer, who has spent more than 20 years researching FPE circuit breakers. Aronstein has testified in lawsuits against FPE and warned, “The breaker is a safety device that is supposed to prevent fires. If it doesn’t work as required, you get an increased risk of fire.”


The Investigative Unit asked how did a defective product meant to provide safety, get into millions of homes, and how can a defective circuit breaker pass federal inspection plus get the UL stamp of approval? According to Aronstein, the answer is simple.  He says the company cheated. “FPE was cheating on the testing and applying the label to a product that was defective and did not meet the requirements,” Aronstein claims.
His allegation is supported by the document obtained by NBC Bay Area. The 1982 Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Reliance Electric, the company that purchased FPE says, “UL listings on circuit breakers made by Federal Pacific have previously been obtained through the use of deceptive and improper practices.”

Aronstein told NBC Bay Area the deceptive and improper practices included tricking UL inspectors by using a hidden remote control to force the breaker to trip if it was not tripping properly.  
After years of researching the issues with Federal Pacific circuit breakers, Aronstein believes they are responsible for approximately 2,000 fires nationwide each year.

The Federal Pacific Electric company no longer exists, but experts estimate millions of defective circuit breakers it manufactured remain in homes all over the country.  Published reports show not every Federal Pacific circuit breaker is defective.  In the wake of the controversy, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) removed the UL listing for the breakers, but not before millions were sold and installed in homes built from the 1950s to the 1980s. In recent years, some of the breakers have been modified and did pass UL inspection. 
The Consumer Product Safety Commission did conduct additional testing of the Federal Pacific circuit breakers in the 1980s. Controversy and legal challenges followed the testing.  Many called on the CPSC to recall the breakers, but they were never recalled.  Some experts have said the CPSC did not recall the Federal Pacific circuit breakers because it did not have the budget to battle a possible legal fight from Federal Pacific’s then-parent company.  

If you have witnessed a problem with Federal Pacific circuit breakers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission asks that you file a report at www.saferproducts.gov.
Source: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/Federal-Pacific-Circuit-Breakers-Investigation-Finds-Decades-of-Danger-171406921.html

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