By Erin McKinley
Mar 10, 2015 4:13 PM


U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and East Hampton Town officials are speaking out against the use of a potentially toxic chemical on utility poles.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Schumer called upon PSEG Long Island, which owns the poles, to stop treating them with pentachlorophenol, also known as penta, to protect the poles from the elements, at least until an Environmental Protection Agency study on the toxicity and long-term health effects of the chemical has been conducted.

In total, 95,000 utility poles on Long Island have been treated with the chemical, which has recently been used on new poles in both East Hampton and North Hempstead towns. The poles often are located in private yards, in parks, near schools and near highly trafficked businesses.

“There’s no debate that ‘penta’ is a highly toxic chemical that should be nowhere near playgrounds or our drinking water, and I am petitioning the federal EPA to step in and investigate the long-term impact of using this toxic chemical specifically on utility poles in Long Island neighborhoods and parks,” the senator said in a statement this week. “The EPA is the gold standard when it comes to assessing health and environmental risk of such chemicals, and has yet to review penta—and I am urging them to end the debate regarding the use of this chemical by PSEG.”

According to the EPA website, pentachlorophenol is a former pesticide and biocide that is now mostly used only for treating and preserving wood. It also is sometimes used as a chemical component of other pesticides, and is extremely toxic when ingested by humans. Acute exposure to the chemical can lead to cardiovascular, blood, liver and eye damage. High levels of exposure also have been known to lead to neurological problems, diseases of the upper respiratory tract, and blood disorders such as aplastic anemia. The chemical is currently listed as a possible human carcinogen, but more studies are needed to verify that, the EPA says.

This week, Jeffrey Weir, director of communications for PSEG, said the company is following all requirements when using the chemical, and that it is used by 55 percent of utility companies in the United States. He also said the company will comply with all future regulations pertaining to the chemical.

“For PSEG Long Island, the health and safety of our customers and employees is a top priority,” Mr. Weir said in a statement. “PSEG Long Island is relying on the current EPA registration determination, which permits the use of penta in utility poles. If the EPA issues a revised determination, of course, we will respond and comply accordingly.

“We are comforted by the fact that when, two weeks ago, in response to concerns about the use of penta in East Hampton … [the State] Department of Health concluded that its use there does not ‘result in a significant risk for adverse health effects,’” he continued.

“Currently, there are five wood preservatives used by utilities across the country—with penta capturing 55 percent of the market. Penta-treated poles have a long, proven track record for withstanding the elements and protecting utility workers who work on these poles every day, and continue to be the preferred choice among utilities across the country. Utility poles are treated with preservatives so that they can withstand the elements and last for decades.”

This week, Rebecca Singer, the co-chair of the Long Island Business for Responsible Energy, a group that has called for the utility poles in East Hampton to be removed, said that while she is happy that Sen. Schumer is taking a stance against the use of pentachlorophenol, it is not enough. The EPA, she said, recently launched a five-year study into the toxicity of penta, and she said the action should be taken before that study is completed.

She added that several countries worldwide have already banned the substance based on similar studies, and there is no need for further tests to determine that it is dangerous.

“My feeling is that they have already done the research,” she said. “We don’t need to redo the research—we need to use the research that is already out there.”