AUSTIN (KXAN) — Brennen Teel was 31 years old when he died in a house explosion in Lubbock in 2012 after lightning struck the garage he was inside taking cover from a thunderstorm. According to a fire marshal investigation, the bolt struck corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) and ignited the gas it carried.
"It's changed our life," said Brennen's mother Becky Teel. "Every waking moment, every breath. The phone doesn't ring. The conversations don't happen."
After her son's death, Teel made it her mission to convince cities to ban the product. The city of Lubbock first banned the piping with a unanimous city council vote, then the city of Rockwall—where Becky lives—did the same. Three other cities—Beaumont, Garland and Argyle—were on track to follow.
Those steps came after calls to make the material safer by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) and the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM). CSST was introduced in the 1990's and has been widely-used for residential gas lines service since then. According to the LOP and NASFM, the design and the thin walls of CSST have "proved problematic and susceptible to lightning's high intensity electric charge."
Teel's efforts recently suffered a blow because of a last-minute maneuver by a state Senator during the closing days of the most recent legislative session. Teel said CSST manufacturers hired lobbyists to stop her efforts in Lubbock and Rockwall to no avail. Then, she added, those opposed to her efforts took it to the state level.
"Absolutely, they knew how to do it," she said of a legislative move made in the closing hours of the last session in May.
In the preceding months, no state lawmakers filed bills to prevent cities from banning CSST. That would have meant hearings and debates on the floor of the House and Senate about the safety problems associated with CSST. Instead, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, tacked on an amendment to a bill aimed at ending state inspections of commercial espresso machines.
While Hancock's amendment did not include any mention of CSST, it effectively crushed Teel's efforts—with no hearings or debate.
After the law went into effect, Teel said Hancock agreed to meet with her to discuss the issue. "I asked if we could take the amendment off, and he said 'No,'" she recounted.
Hancock's office sent KXAN a statement, saying:
We filed this amendment because the safety of Texas homes is too important to allow a monopolistic ban on nationally code-certified gas pipes in favor of one specific type of unproven pipe that science says carries its own set of safety concerns including fitting corrosion. The amendment keeps all nationally code-certified options on the table so home builders and homeowners can make the wisest choice for their property.
Sen. Hancock believes Lubbock's new safety code created a monopoly benefiting the only company currently making CSST meeting the city's new standard. The senator emailed us one consultant's test, done on behalf of another company whose newer version of CSST doesn’t meet the new standard. It claims the type picked by Lubbock also doesn't meet those safety requirements. Despite that, the researcher who did that study told the Lubbock council he considers the product it picked to be safe and he would use it in his own house. You can read it here: CSST report
KXAN followed up asking why Hancock did not file a bill and have hearings so each side could present its case. He and his office responded:
1) "The matter was brought to our attention after bill filing deadline (for further context, the Rockwall ordinance was passed after session already began), and 2) there were concerns that these city-by-city bans on all but one product (i.e. monopoly policies) could significantly expand before next session, resulting in statewide building code confusion, had the Legislature not acted this year to follow statutory precedent of an adherence to national codes and standards.
"I was very surprised," said Teel. "I did not hear about it until after [the legislation had passed]."
Lubbock's fire marshal, who led the effort to ban CSST in that city, said he was also caught off guard by the new law. After Brennen Teel's death, the fire marshal explained the city brought in researchers from across the nation to study the issue.
"We have done more research on this product than anybody," said Nelson, who feels the legislature eliminated his city's local control. "We felt like our citizens deserved a higher level of safety... instead, this was a decision made politically, attached to the back of a bill that has nothing to do with gas line safety."
Nelson added, this July, after the measure was signed into law, lightning struck another Lubbock home, causing a dangerous gas leak blamed on CSST.
"It's very disappointing, but I'm not finished, Teel said. "We have nothing to gain, other than the safety of someone else and that's what we're working for."
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