(Beyond Pesticides, September 24, 2014) New York Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Kenneth LaValle have introduced legislation that will prohibit the future use of utility poles treated with pentachlorophenol (PCP), and call for the posting of warnings to inform people about the dangers of contact with PCP on existing poles. PCP has been listed as a possible carcinogen, is typically contaminated with various forms of dioxins and furans -known carcinogens that persist in the environment.
Just last week, Beyond Pesticides reported that the Town of North Hempstead on Long Island, New York passed a new law requiring warning labels on utility poles that are treated with the hazardous wood preservative pentachlorophenol (PCP). Labeling for treated poles are now required to have the following warning: “This pole contains a hazardous chemical. Avoid prolonged direct contact with this pole. Wash hands or other exposed areas thoroughly if contact is made.” PCP is highly toxic and has been listed as a possible carcinogen by national and international agencies. Concerns have been raised throughout the years over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) continued registration of PCP in the U.S. even though it has already been banned in all European Union member states, China, India, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Russia.
Now, activists in New York, after working tirelessly to raise their concerns about the health and environmental impacts of PCP, have new legislation they can support. Senator Kenneth LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s legislation to ban the use of pentachlorophenol would be the first in the nation to do so. In their press release, the legislators raised several human health concerns as the motive for introducing this legislation:
According EPA, “Pentachlorophenol (PCP) was once one of the most widely used biocides in the United States, but it is now a restricted use pesticide and is no longer available to the general public. Pentachlorophenol is extremely toxic to humans from acute (short-term) ingestion and inhalation exposure. Acute inhalation exposures in humans have resulted in neurological, blood, and liver effects, and eye irritation. Chronic (long-term) exposure to pentachlorophenol by inhalation in humans has resulted in effects on the respiratory tract, blood, kidney, liver, immune system, eyes, nose, and skin. Human studies suggest an association between exposure to pentachlorophenol and cancer. Oral animal studies have reported increases in liver tumors and two uncommon tumor types. EPA has classified pentachlorophenol as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen”.
Assemblyman Thiele notes, “The federal government has made it clear that PCP is a dangerous chemical and has outlawed its use by the general public. It is to be used only for industrial use away from the general population. Yet, this chemical has been used to treat utility poles for transmission lines in places like East Hampton that are only a few feet from residential dwellings, exposing children and families to this dangerous substance. Further, at a time when we are all focused on the degradation of our water, it is inconceivable that wood treated with this substance would be permitted to leach into the groundwater on Long Island. There are better options and those options should be implemented now.
Senator LaValle said, “This is a critical public health and safety matter. People need to be made aware of the presence of PCP, so they can protect themselves, their children and their pets from the potential dangers posed by this chemical. This type of coating to preserve utility poles needs to be discontinued for public health reasons as soon as possible.”
PCP is highly toxic and contains a mixture of volatile polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It is heavily contaminated with dioxin, furans, and hexochlorobenzene -all known to have reproductive, developmental and carcinogenic impacts. EPA has determined that PCP is readily absorbed via all routes of exposure, including oral, inhalation, and dermal. Incidentally, it has been detected in umbilical cord blood plasma and breast milk, highlighting the risks of exposure to developing fetuses and infants. It also acts as an endocrine disruptor by affecting the levels of circulating thyroid hormones, testosterone and estradiol.
Beyond Pesticides has long called for the banning of PCP, having unsuccessfully sued the EPA to ban utility pole use. As used as a wood preservative treatment for utility poles, PCP can contaminate humans and the environment. PCP is released into the air (volatilization) from treated wood surfaces where residues can quickly bind to soil and can make their way into surface and ground waters, where they persist and accumulate in fish and other organisms. Increased temperature and leaching from rain will influence PCP migration from utility poles to surrounding air and soil.
EPA has in the past determined that contact with soil contaminated with PCP, as well as residential contact with treated wood products like utility poles poses an unacceptable cancer risk to children. Despite the fact that children can, and do play around utility poles, EPA now insists that children do not play around poles, and thus, finds no need to account for this route of exposure for children. PCP is also a common contaminant in water, and studies with fish finds that PCP acts as an endocrine disruptor, eventually resulting in abnormal fish development
Currently, because of its toxicity and presence in the environment, PCP and its salts are being considered for listing under the Stockholm Convention as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) to be targeted for worldwide phase out. According to the review committee, “Pentachlorophenol and its salts and esters is likely, as a result of its long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and/or environmental effects such that global action is warranted. . . ”
Since the mid-1980s, Beyond Pesticides has done extensive work to address the risks of exposure to PCP and other heavy-duty wood preservatives: inorganic arsenicals (such as chromated copper arsenate, or CCA) and creosote. Beyond Pesticides has published two reports, Poison Poles and Pole Pollution, which address the use of wood preservatives on utility poles. The first report, Poison Poles, published in 1997, examines the toxic trail left by the manufacture, use, storage and disposal of the heavy-duty wood preservatives from cradle to grave. Pole Pollution, published in 1999, focuses on EPA’s draft preliminary science chapter on PCP and provides the results of our survey of over 3,000 utilities across the United States and Canada. These reports can be found on the Wood Preservatives webpage.
On December 10, 2002, a lawsuit [Civil Case No. 02-2419(RJL)] led by Beyond Pesticides was filed in federal court by a national labor union, environmental groups and a victim family to stop the use of arsenic and dioxin-laden wood preservatives, which are used to treat lumber, utility poles and railroad ties. The litigation argued that the chemicals hurt utility workers exposed to treated poles, children playing near treated structures, and the environment, and cites the availability of alternatives.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.