The sprinklers are installed in homes, offices, day-care facilities, hospitals and other buildings, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said.
Central Sprinkler Co., of Lansdale, Pa., discovered some of its sprinkler heads have O-ring seals that can corrode, said L. Dennis Kozlowski, chief executive of Tyco International Ltd., which owns the sprinkler company. The firm has received 13 reports of sprinklers failing to work during fires.
"We immediately shared our concerns with the authorities," Kozlowski told reporters. He noted the deterioration of the sprinklers "takes place over a very long period of time."
Tyco will provide free replacements for all the recalled sprinklers, the safety commission said. The first sprinklers replaced will be the oldest, those showing signs of damage or those in buildings such as nursing homes and hospitals.
The recall includes another 167,000 sprinklers sold by Gem Sprinkler Co. and Star Sprinkler Inc., which are also owned by Tyco, the safety commission said.
The recalled fire sprinkler heads have the words "CENTRAL" or "STAR", the letters "CSC", the letter "G" in a triangle, or a star-shaped symbol stamped on either the metal frame or the flower-shaped metal piece at one end of the sprinkler head.
About 2.5 million sprinklers installed in other countries, most of them in Canada, are also included in the recall, said Central Sprinkler spokeswoman Anne Buchanan.
People seeking more information about how to replace their sprinklers should call the company toll-free at 1-800-871-3492.
Building owners, however, shouldn't shut off their sprinkler systems because of this recall, said Joseph Hirschmugl, a spokesman for Chicago-based Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which provides safety certifications and has been testing the recalled sprinklers.
"People should remember that sprinklers are important life saving devices," he said, noting that the recall is a precaution.
The vast majority of the recalled sprinklers are of the GB or glass-bulb type that contain alcohol or another liquid in a bulb mounted on the sprinkler head. Heat rising from a fire expands the liquid, causing the glass to shatter. That releases the sprinkler's plug and allows water onto the fire. An O-ring seal keeps the plug from leaking.
The testing organization said in April that some glass-bulb sprinklers produced by Central Sprinkler had crystallized deposits or corrosion around the rubber seal, which indicated leaking water.
It has recommended that the sprinklers be replaced since March 2000, but at the time, Brad McGee, a Tyco senior vice president, said it was too early to consider a recall or replacement of the sprinklers.
In 1998, Central Sprinkler recalled 8.4 million Omega brand fire sprinklers because thy could fail in a fire. Those sprinklers, which were installed nationwide in schools, hospitals, hotels, offices and homes, failed to activate in about 20 fires during the 1990s, causing injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, the safety commission said at the time.
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