New Requirements To Remove Abandoned Cable

The ABR Consulting Group, Inc. has been following recent National Electric Code (NEC) requirements to remove abandoned electrical and telecom cable from existing buildings.  Due to the volume of cable in existing buildings (especially high-rise buildings) and due to cables being a suspected contributor to the fuel and toxic substances in pyrolytic events (smoke, heat fire), action to remove abandoned cable has been taken.  Accumulated cables under the raised floor of a computer room is an especially juicy target.  The NEC code articles listed below define the circumstances under which the cable must be removed.  However, it doesn't say who pays for it.  We predict that clauses relating to this topic will soon appear in building leases.   

Below is a very nice write-up by Frank Bisbee, President of Communication Planning Corporation (or a member of his staff).  Frank's email is  His website can visited at  Frank has a great newsletter.  

NEC 2002 - requirement for removal of abandoned cable

The National Electric Code (NEC) contains the pertinent mandatory Codes.  These Codes are rules intended to ensure the safety during installation, use and/or disposal of materials, components, fixtures, and systems.  The Codes ensure minimum construction quality and ensure safety of life, health and property.

The new fire safety provision to require the removal of abandoned cable is the first change to cabling requirements in the National Electrical Code in more than 20 years. In 1978, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) made an exception to NFPA 90A - Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems, which requires any materials installed in a plenum space to be either “noncombustible” or “limited combustible.” The exception, which allowed cables tested and rated as CMP to be installed in the return air plenum, was drafted more than 25 years ago.  In the 1970's, no cables were available which could meet the requirements of non-combustible or limited combustible rating.  In the past several years, the cabling industry has developed cables which meet the NFPA 90A requirements for Limited Combustible and these cables are recognized in the current NEC 2002. 

The NEC is revised on a three-year cycle.  The next revision of the NEC will be in 2005.  The NEC code (when recognized and accepted) is enforced by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction), which includes state, local, county and city code authorities.  Each AHJ can adopt the NEC code in whole or partially.

(See attached current pending NEC 2002 Adoption Schedule by State).  Some cities may elect to adopt the entire or partial current NEC code on a timetable not included in the attached schedule.   

The new NEC 2002 requires that abandoned cable be removed for both copper and fiber.

The accumulation of miles and miles of cabling left in the ceilings and walls of facilities has become a major concern for life safety over the years. A recent Toxics Use Reduction Institute presentation at the RCRA National Conference - January 16, 2002 ) conservatively estimated that there is over 45 billion feet of plenum cable in place.  Cables that are abandoned in ceilings, riser systems, and air handling systems have always been a source for fueling fire and smoke. The NEC 2002 requires the removal of abandoned cable to reduce the fuel load in case of a fire.  The buildup of layers upon layers of cabling has become a major concern to life and safety over the past 10 years.

RCRA is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1976. RCRA's primary goals are to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, to conserve energy and natural resources, to reduce the amount of waste generated, and to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner. In 1984, Congress enacted the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) which significantly expanded the scope and requirements of RCRA.  

The definition of abandoned cable, as found in paragraphs 800.2 and 770.2 of the NEC 2002 Book, states "....Installed communications cable that is not terminated at both ends at a connector or other equipment and not identified "For Future Use" with a tag."  Admittedly, this definition of abandoned cable in the NEC is somewhat vague.  There is a concerted effort in the NFPA to draft a set of clearer definitions for this portion of the NEC 2002.  The definition clarity problem associated with the NEC 2002 - removal of abandoned cable - does not make the code invalid.  Hopefully, the local authorities will use good judgment    and discretion in the application and enforcement of this code when accepted by the AHJ. 

For copper cable, paragraph 800.52(B) of the NEC Code states "...The accessible portion of abandoned communications cables shall not be permitted to remain.." Additionally, paragraph 800.52(1) states that abandoned cables in vertical runs shall not be permitted to remain. Article 770 states the same requirements for optical fiber risers and horizontal cables.  

All cabling end users should understand the implications of not complying with these new NEC Codes. They are based on safety of the employees and rescue personnel.   As the code is enforced across the country, building owners and tenants could face thousands of dollars in additional costs to remove and dispose of the abandoned cables, tag and manage the remaining cable plant in their riser and communications areas, and insure that tenants install proper cables to meet the building requirements for fire and safety of their other tenants.


Contact us at  Phone:  925.872.5523  Fax:  925.484.4007