As PSEG-Long Island begins work upgrading Long Island’s electric grid to protect against future storms, there’ve been rumblings of discontent over the use of utility poles treated with pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative that extends the serviceable life of the wood by decades but is known to cause cancer at high concentrations.
PSEG-Long Island is dipping into a pool of $729 million in FEMA money to complete the upgrades, available after Superstorm Sandy as part of the federal government’s 406 mitigation program funds, said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell on Tuesday.
But that money won’t be available forever, and efforts by elected officials to push the Environmental Protection Agency to study “penta” treatment further are just in the early stages.
Riverhead and Brookhaven have already agreed to let PSEG-Long Island install the new penta-treated poles using FEMA money, said Mr. Russell at Tuesday’s Southold Town Board work session.
Activists in East Hampton Town have been pushing against penta-treated poles after PSEG began installing a transmission line using the new poles down a stretch of back roads from East Hampton Village to Amagansett last winter.
Mr. Russell said he’s been through two hurricanes and several severe winter storms and nor’easters as town supervisor and he doesn’t believe it would be responsible to delay upgrades to the town’s electric grid.
“If we do not make the upgrades, we will not get the ability for quite some time,” he said. “The prospect of prolonged outages, particularly during cold weather events, may be more dangerous to public health than penta.”
Most of the upgrades in Southold Town would be in the Bayview neighborhood of the hamlet of Southold.
Mr. Russell said he’d be happy to support a town resolution asking the EPA to complete its study of the health risks of penta, as the federal agency had recommended in their environmental impact statement on the use of the product back in the 1990s.
“PSEG ain’t out there painting penta on poles,” said Mr. Russell. “They’re buying from vendors and distributors” who have those poles on hand.
“Unless the EPA says they can’t use anymore, good replacement products are not going to come on the market,” he added.
Board members agreed.
“I don’t think we should turn away money coming to us,” said Councilwoman Jill Doherty.
“I did some research on penta a couple weeks ago. The information I was able to find showed it in a negative light, but there were mixed details on how far it leaches [out of the poles and into the ground],” said Councilman Bob Ghosio. “I would agree with Scott, until we have real clear idea of what the ramifications are, I think we need to move forward.”