State Officials, Non-Profit Push To Ban Penta On Utility Poles

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An East Hampton nonprofit, with the help of state officials, is urging the town and village to require utility company PSEG Long Island to hang “visual danger signs” on all 267 telephone poles that were installed earlier in the year as part of its transmission line project.

The poles contain a toxic substance called pentachlorophenol. A resolution for the warning signs, drafted by Long Island Business For Responsible Energy, also calls for a daily fine “not exceeding $500” for a first conviction, and a fine “not exceeding $1,000 for every subsequent conviction,” for poles that do not have warning signs. Every day that the violation continues, according to the proposed resolution, would count as a separate violation.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle announced Monday that they support LIBFRE’s draft resolution and have also introduced legislation at the state level to ban the use of “harmful, industrial wood preservatives” on utility poles.

“In essence, we’re proposing to prohibit the use of PCP [pentachlorophenol] to treat utility poles for anywhere that gets their drinking water from aquifers, which is all of Long Island,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday. “And for those that are already in the ground, it would require the utility company to post a notice on every other pole about the dangers of PCP.”

LIBFRE first met with Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle at the end of August, after the nonprofit hired Dermody Consulting, an environmental assessment firm that found nearly 300 times the DEC’s limit of pentachlorophenol in the soil surrounding the poles, according to LIBFRE co-chair Rebecca Singer.

“I think with the support of Thiele and LaValle, it sort of says to the town and village, ‘hey, step up to the plate,’” Ms. Singer said on Tuesday. “For all of the people who had previously said the issue of penta was ridiculous and that we’ve been using it forever so why change, this really proves a point. We’re thrilled, and we just have to make sure this comes to fruition.”

However, PSEG maintains its position that its top priority for its customers and employees is “health and safety” and that the utility poles are treated with preservatives “so that they can withstand the elements and last for decades.”

Furthermore, PSEG states that pentachlorophenol, the preservative typically used in utility poles, has been approved by the EPA for more than 60 years, specifically for such use.

“PSEG Long Island does not apply penta to the poles, nor does it pour penta at the base of the poles that it installs. Instead, PSEG Long Island simply installs poles that have been treated with penta by the manufacturer,” PSEG spokesperson Jeff Weir said in a statement.

However, Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle both disagree.

“The EPA’s guidance on this prohibits penta on basically anything but transmission poles,” said Mr. Thiele. “The theory is that typically those poles are going be in a place that isn’t populated, but in our case, these poles are right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. To me, that isn’t consistent with the spirit or the letter of what the EPA is talking about. The EPA basically says don’t use this stuff where it’s going to be close to human populations that could come in contact with it. We’re trying to ensure that not just the spirit of the EPA but the letter of the law is met here.”

The suggested resolution is based on similar legislation that was approved in North Hempstead earlier this month, said Ms. Singer, whose organization made its own tweaks to the wording to strengthen the legislation. According to Ms. Singer, North Hempstead’s town supervisor had the North Hempstead resolution require PSEG to put a text-only notice on every fourth pole, while the proposed law in East Hampton would require the skull-and-crossbones sign, in addition to text, on every pole. The East Hampton resolution would also require the text on the signs to be in English and Spanish, given the large Spanish-speaking population in the area, said Ms. Singer. Additionally, it would make the effective date of the program December 1, 2014, as opposed to March 1, as it is in North Hempstead.

“We are just overwhelmed with excitement,” Ms. Singer said of her support from Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle. “I honestly would be shocked if the village and town don’t do it.”

Mr. Thiele said while it is possible PSEG could say the town and villages do not have standing to enforce a law such as the one proposed, he believes they do.

“These poles are on properties where the right-of-ways are owned by towns and villages,” he said. “They can require whatever they want.”

The Village Board said they would act in accordance with the town, but neither municipality has yet adopted the resolution.

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