The Consumer Product Safety Commission renewed its attack on the aluminum wire industry yesterday, filing a motion in federal court seeking to require 26 producers to inform owners of houses wired in a certain way aluminum wire that they face the risk of death or serious injury from fire.
The suit specifically asks the court to order the firms to give public notice of the hazards involved in the wiring of some 1.5 million houses mostly constructed between the years 1966 and 1972. It also asks that consumers be advised of possible precationary measures, and that manufacturers be ordered to repair all of the affected wiring systems - known as "old technology" aluminum wiring - now in use.
"Alarming reports from throughout the nation show that consumers living in houses with the "old technology" aluminum wiring systsms are exposed daily to the risk of death or severe personal injury," the CPSC motion states.
The action is the latest in a complex and bitter legal battle between the CPSC and the wire manufacturers, particularly Kaiser Aluminum. The latest suit, filed yesterday, is the third court volley in two years.
The CPSC has been investigating the aluminum wiring stafety issue since 1973. Public hearings in 1974 had dramatized the problem and convinced the CPSC staff that more investigation was needed.
In January 1976, Kaiser Aluminum charged in a federal court in Wilmington, Del., that CPSC press releases warning of the dangers of aluminum wiring were "inaccurate and misleading." Kaiser also charged that the CPSC has no jurisdiction in the matter because aluminum wiring is not a consumer product.
In March 1977, Judge Walter Stapleton agreed with Kaiser on the issue of jurisdiction only (the issue of accuracy of the CPSC statements was severed for later trial) and ordered the CPSC to make no further statements about aluminum wire.
But a second suit, brought a few months later by the CPSC against 19 aluminum wire companies in District Court here, resulted in an opposite ruling by Judge Thomas Flannery. That suit sought the enforcement of subpoenas issued by the commission in connection with the case. Last June, Judge Flannery ruled that aluminum wire is a consumer product, and ordered the subpoenas enforced against 18 of the companies - all but Kaiser. He said Kaiser could not be ruled upon until the earlier case was settled in Delaware.
Using Judge Flannery's ruling, and Section 12 of the Consumer Product Safety Act - which allows the CPSC to sue obtain a remedial order concerning a product that may constitute an imminent hazard - the commission took its latest action yesterday.
It is unclear whether or not the commission is in violations of the Delaware injunction against it by releasing the aluminum wire information and warnings through the court action.