TODAY   |  March 18, 2014

TODAY investigates: Dangers of CSST tubing

Scott Friedman, investigative reporter for NBC station KXAS, joins TODAY to discuss safety concerns about corrugated stainless steel tubing, used to run gas appliances and furnaces.

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>>> news investigates. something in the walls in at least 10 million american homes. steel tubing better known as csst, used to run gas to appliances and furnaces, mostly in newer homes. and scott friedman , investigative reporter for our dallas station kxas has uncovered serious safety concerns. good morning to you.

>> good morning. our investigation began after a sudden fire and explosion in a brand new house killed a man. now, some experts blame this, a kind of gas piping used since the '90s. it's easier to install than the black iron pipe. but after that deadly explosion in texas and other fires across the country, some fire investigators are wondering whether it should be used at all. firefighters race to the lubbock, texas, home as an electrical storm rolls through.

>> boom. lightning hit.

>> a crash of thunder appears to trip the burglar alarm. ross and his friend trying to shut it off.

>> that's when the explosion happened.

>> ross escapes under the buckled garage door.

>> dispatch, we have a victim! in the rear of the structure!

>> brennan does not make it out.

>> i would not --

>> brennan's parents soon learn the fire marshal blames corrugated stainless steel tubes used to pipe gas in millions of homes and approved in building codes across the country. fire marshal garrett nelson believes lightning hit the chimney cap, traveled into the attic and punctured tiny holes in the thin tubes creating mini blow torches.

>> we've got flame jets coming out of those pipes. and so very quickly involved the entire attic.

>> critics so far csst argue the walls of the tubing are simply too thin, much thinner than black iron pipe that has been used to supply gas to homes for decades.

>> believing csst contributed to a death, the city of lubbock banned the product.

>> that needs to be the last fire death because of a bad product.

>> reporter: the company that made the csst tight flex denies the product is to blame.

>> i think the facts over the course of time are going to surface. and it's going to prove that our product is not necessarily the culprit in this case.

>> reporter: their experts believe their fire started with lightning damage to electrical wiring installed too close to the csst.

>> we know that over 22 years of experience with this product, it's a safe product.

>> at least six companies in the u.s. make csst, they say lightning fires are unlikely if csst is connected or bonded to the electrical grounding system in the house. but some experts are still seeing fires in homes where it was bonded and grounded.

>> i just want to know the solution to fixing the problem. because the problem is out there. it's still out there.

>> reporter: meanwhile, they want the product off the market.

>> this incident may lead to save other lives and property. and i think that's a good way for us to remember him.

>> now the csst makers claim the old black pipe has its own problems. joints that can leak or break in an earthquake. if you have csst, state fire marshals urge you to call electricians and make sure it's bonded and grounded. that'll reduce the risk, but they're split on how much, matt.

>> i'm sure a lot of people say, bonded and grounded is one thing, should i take it out of my house? what's the procedure like that?

>> well, it's possible to do that. it may be difficult depending on where it is in the house.

>> sure.

>> some also produce a black coated version of this, which is designed to be more lightning resistant. that's another option.

>> important information, scott, thank you