BY JOANNE PILGRIM
January 8, 2015 – 12:53pm
A hydrogeologist who reviewed the results of recent tests of soil and groundwater around several of the utility poles installed by PSEG Long Island in East Hampton says that there is indeed cause for concern about toxic chemicals in the groundwater.
Commissioned by East Hampton Town and Village, the FPM Group, an engineering and environmental science firm, tested the soil and groundwater around three of the newly installed poles, which carry high-voltage electric lines from East Hampton Village to Amagansett.
Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy, or LIBFRE, a citizens group, had pressed the municipalities to conduct the tests based on concerns about pentachlorophenol, or penta, a chemical used to treat the utility poles.
While the FPM analysis reported penta in the soil around the poles but no penta in the groundwater, Peter Dermody of Dermody Consulting, hired by LIBFRE to review the test results, said that the samples do show the presence of semi-volatile organic compounds, some of which are suspected to be cancer-causing, in the water and in the soil.
“It appears that these chemicals are components of the penta formulation used to treat the poles,” Mr. Dermody wrote in his own recent report. Five of them, he said, appeared at concentrations up to 48 times higher than the standards set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for groundwater.
“Therefore, the present information indicates that the groundwater has been contaminated by carcinogenic chemicals and that contamination is expected to continue as more S.V.O.C.s migrate downward in the soil column and reach the water table. Unless the penta-treated poles are removed, this contamination will continue,” he said. “If the poles remain, they will continue to leach toxic chemicals to the soil and groundwater for many years, and toxic vapors will continue to off-gas from the poles’ surfaces.”
The FPM Group’s report on the results of the sampling concluded that pentachlorophenol’s “strong tendency to absorb to soil significantly reduces” the amount of the chemical that might dissolve into stormwater in the soil and enter the water table, but acknowledged that over time that could occur.
The semi-volatile organic chemicals found in the water, that report said, could have resulted from the water’s turbidity and might not represent actual levels of the chemicals dissolved in the groundwater.
Mr. Dermody said that while the FPM consultants reported that penta in soil may photodegrade over time, that will not occur in the deeper levels of soil where “the penta will persist for very long periods of time.” Levels of the chemical in the soil were “extremely high,” he said. “The penta in the soil has, from the day the poles were installed to present, presented a significant potential health hazard to any person or pet that comes in contact with the contaminated soil or has touched any of these new poles, or has inhaled the penta odors which still remain in the vicinity of many poles.”
He recommended removal of the contaminated soil around the poles, and fencing and warning signs to prevent casual contact with the poles or soil. Penta has been “banned for all uses in 26 countries and has been banned for nearly all uses in the United States,” Mr. Dermody said in his report.
Members of LIBFRE have called for warning signs on each of the poles, and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle have proposed a law banning penta-coated utility poles and a requirement for warning signs on those that exist.
LIBFRE has filed a class-action lawsuit against PSEG and the Long Island Power Authority, citing adverse effects of the 267 new poles carrying high-voltage wires on the health, safety, environment, and property values of East Hampton residents.
In a press release, LIBFRE said that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recently articulated stance against fracking rested on a need for further investigation as to its effect on human health and the environment. In the case of penta, the group said, the science review committee of the United Nations recently passed a resolution that called for ending its use.
“Even if there is cleanup of the soil around the poles, the penta will continue to leach from the poles. Therefore, there is only one permanent solution: removal of the penta-treated poles,” the release said.