BY JOANNE PILGRIM
March 12, 2015 – 12:46pm
Senator Charles Schumer spoke out this week about the utility poles installed by PSEG Long Island throughout East Hampton and across Long Island, calling a chemical used to treat the wooden poles “highly toxic” and “known to cause serious health issues,” and urging the federal Environmental Protection Agency to investigate its use immediately. He demanded that PSEG suspend the use of the chemical, penta, on utility poles, and halt further pole installation until the E.P.A. investigation is complete.
At least 95,000 utility poles on Long Island, he said, have been treated with the chemical, whose full name is pentachlorophenol. It has been banned in numerous countries worldwide but is still allowed for industrial applications in the United States.
Given the risks, Senator Schumer said in a written statement, “more caution and research is needed to ensure residents [and] children are not exposed to [the] highly toxic chemical,” which has been tied to neurological, respiratory, kidney, and immune system disorders. Because the treated poles “can be found in populated areas like yards, parks, around schools, and around local businesses, it is critical that they be free of toxins like penta,” which has caused “serious concern” that it could leach into groundwater.
Residents of East Hampton along a six-mile route from East Hampton Village to Amagansett, along which PSEG has installed new poles and high-voltage electricity transmission wires, have been raising the same concerns. Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy, an East Hampton-based group, is suing PSEG over the installations.
“East Hampton has been sitting with these toxic-laden pentachlorophenol poles less than 25 feet from children’s bedrooms for a year and two months now. These poles need to be pulled now at PSEG’s or the government’s expense,” Rebecca Singer and Helene Forst, two of LIBFRE’s principals, said in a statement this week.
They expressed dismay at the State Health Department’s response to letters outlining their concerns and other submissions, including expert testimony about the dangers of penta and the results of two separate soil tests around East Hampton Village poles that showed elevated chemical levels exceeding government environmental standards. The tests were commissioned privately by LIBFRE and by East Hampton Town and Village.
The state has found that “the elevated pentachlorophenol soil concentrations are localized in areas directly adjacent to the poles,” wrote Thomas B. Johnson, a Health Department scientist, “and that people are unlikely to contact substantial amounts of soil with sufficient duration and frequency to result in a significant risk for adverse health effects.” The new poles have been installed along narrow streets in close proximity to many houses, LIBFRE has pointed out.
Similar poles and lines have been installed in the Town of North Hempstead, also prompting an outcry. At a press conference Monday in Manhasset, Senator Schumer was joined by North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and a number of Long Island residents.
“We need the E.P.A., which is the authority on testing chemicals and health risks they pose, to conduct a thorough and comprehensive federal study on penta’s long-term effects, and we don’t need any more delay. We need them to do it now,” Mr. Schumer said.
Recent studies on the effects of pentachlorophenol conducted by private firms have been “narrow in scope and insufficient,” he said. “We need a broad, public, and strong investigation.”
According to the E.P.A., said the senator, the short-term inhalation of penta, which is considered a carcinogen, has been known to have toxic effects.
“PSEG Long Island is relying on the current E.P.A. registration determination, which permits the use of penta in utility poles,” Jeffrey Weir, a company spokesman, said this week. “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.”
“If the E.P.A. issues a revised determination, of course we will respond and comply accordingly,” he said.