U.S. Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference in Manhasset yesterday urging the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the use of pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative, on utility poles throughout Long Island.
Opponents of PSEG-Long Island’s installation of new, treated, utility poles in East Hampton last year have been calling on the government to address the potential for public health threats due to the chemical treatment of the poles.
Mr. Schumer said treating the poles with a toxic chemical could cause health risks to children and utility workers, and toxins could leach into groundwater.
The treatment, commonly known as “penta,” has been used on at least 95,000 wooden utility poles on Long Island, and PSEG plans to continue to use them in future installations.
Mr. Schumer called on PSEG to immediately suspend the use of penta on utility poles until an EPA investigation into their safety is complete.
The EPA, which is the authority for health and environmental risk of harmful chemicals, has pointed out public health concerns related to penta when ingested or inhaled, including neurological, respiratory, kidney and immune system effects.
Penta is banned or severely restricted in 33 countries, but not the United States. In October, the Stolkholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants considered pushing for a worldwide ban on penta.
Penta was found in soil surrounding utility poles in East Hampton last year, but Mr. Schumer said that a recent study conducted by a private firm on behalf of residents who live near the poles is “totally insufficient” in ensuring that these penta-treated poles do not pose a threat to the long-term health of local residents. The study was based on a very limited sample size and studied poles that were recently placed in the ground.
Schumer said that the federal government should be involved, and urged the EPA to conduct a federal study on penta’s long-term impact on communities that have these utility poles, in particular the long-term degradation of the poles and subsequent leaching into the soil and groundwater.
“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,” said Mr. Schumer. “The EPA is the golden 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.”
“Many of these wooden utility poles are standing nearby schools, parks, businesses and homes, and so, we must ensure that residents and children are not being exposed to the highly toxic chemical if it leaches into the ground water,” he added. “In the meantime, PSEG should stop installing these utility poles until the long-term federal investigation is completed.”
“I join Senator Schumer and Supervisor Bosworth in raising serious health concerns over pentachlorophenol contamination,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. “Recent soil and groundwater tests adjacent to newly installed utility poles in East Hampton found penta in the soil at extremely high levels—at amounts far exceeding New York State Department of Environmental Conservation standards—and chemical components associated with penta in the groundwater.”
On Long Island, 95,000 of LIPA’s 324,000 utility poles have been treated with penta. Across the country, penta is used on approximately 55 percent of 166 million wooden utility poles.
New York State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele have introduced legislation to ban the use of penta on utility poles. The Town of East Hampton is also considering legislation banning the use of penta within the town.
The EPA recently announced that it plans to reassess the safety of penta, but the agency has yet to release its final work plan to evaluate health and environmental risks.