(Beyond Pesticides, March 10, 2015) U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) yesterday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday to immediately investigate the specific use of pentachlorophenol (penta or PCP), a toxic wood preservative, to treat utility poles throughout Long Island and urged Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) Long Island to immediately suspend further use of this chemical until a federal review is complete. PSEG has been installing new, chemically-treated utility poles throughout the Towns of North Hempstead and East Hampton. In his press release, Senator Schumer expresses serious concern about penta’s health risks to utility workers, adults and children and its ability to move into water over the long-term as the chemical leaches from the poles. The Senator also notes that a private firm has conducted a study based on a very limited sample size that does not consider long-term risks as the pole decomposes and further leaches toward groundwater. EPA, which is responsible for evaluating penta’s health and environmental risk, has noted public health concerns related to the chemical when ingested or inhaled, including neurological, respiratory, kidney and immune system effects.
On Long Island, 95,000 of PSEG’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. Localities throughout Long Island have voiced concern about the use of this chemical and the potential for it to leach into the ground water. In September, the Town of North Hempstead passed a law requiring warning labels on utility poles treated with PCP. The mandated labeling states, “This pole contains a hazardous chemical. Avoid prolonged direct contact with this pole. Wash hands or other exposed areas thoroughly if contact is made.” In January, PSEG filed suit in the U.S. District Court against the Town of North Hempstead to stop the signage, asserting that the law violates the utility companies’ right to free-speech by forcing them to post warning signs containing “disputed phrases and accompanying text urging the public to take action.” Shortly after North Hempstead’s action, New York State Senator John LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele announced companion legislation to prohibit the future use of utility poles treated with penta, and call for the posting of warnings to inform people about the dangers of contact with penta on existing poles. In the international arena, the technical scientific committee to the Stockholm Convention, which calls for the worldwide elimination of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), has advised the nation signatories to the treaty to add penta to the list of POPs. It will make the decision in May. Meanwhile, the U.S., which never ratified the treaty, has sent EPA officials to the proceedings of the Convention to try to block the listing of penta as a persistent organic pollutant.
As debate rages and communities attempt to protect themselves in the absence of adequate EPA action, there are alternatives to chemically treated poles. Alternatives range from poles constructed of cement, fiberglass, or recycled metals, as well as laying utility lines underground. Currently, the long-term costs of purchasing, installing and maintaining fiberglass and concrete poles makes them competitive to treated wood utility poles.
Despite inadequate regulatory action, EPA has recognized that the short-term ingestion and inhalation of penta is extremely toxic to humans and is a “probable” human carcinogen. Short-term inhalation of penta can result in issues with the respiratory tract, blood, kidney, liver, immune system, eyes, nose, skin as well as neurological issues. 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 EPA’s continued registration of PCP in the U.S. despite having been banned in all European Union member states, China, India, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Russia. According to Beyond Pesticides’ Pole Pollution, EPA has calculated that children face a 220 times increase in the risk of cancer from exposure to soil contaminated with PCP leaching out of the utility poles. These utility poles are ubiquitous across our country.
Sen. Schumer is joined by town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, other Long Island residents. The Senator said that because the penta treated telephone and electrical poles can be found in populated areas like yards, parks, outside schools and around local businesses, it is critical that EPA quickly conduct a safety review of penta related to human health risks and risks to soil and groundwater, and urged that PSEG suspend the use of this chemical in utility poles until the EPA investigation proves this chemical appropriate for use in these poles.quick
“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. 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. In the meantime, PSEG should stop installing these utility poles until the long-term federal investigation is completed,” said Senator Schumer.
“I am extremely pleased to be standing with Senator Schumer as we speak out about the harmful effects of penta to our residents and our environment. I and many of the Town’s residents are extremely concerned about the continued use of penta as a pesticide for utility poles. Penta is a probable carcinogen and has long been recognized as a public health threat. It’s time for the EPA to investigate this toxic carcinogen,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.
“I join Senator Schumer and Supervisor Bosworth in raising serious health concerns over pentachlorophenol contamination. 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,” said Town of East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
Twenty six countries, including Canada, currently ban penta completely. In December, the preservative was found in soil surrounding the utility poles in East Hampton. Senator Schumer said that a recent study conducted by a private firm is totally insufficient in terms of 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. Senator 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 with these utility poles, particularly related to the long-term degradation of these poles and subsequent leaching into the soil and ground water. EPA recently announced that it plans to reassess the safety of penta, however the agency has yet to release its final work plan to evaluate health and environmental risks, and Senator Schumer is urging the agency to focus on the specific threat that utility poles treated with this substance may pose to communities across Long Island.
Beyond Pesticides has been sounding the alarm on toxic wood preservatives for decades, and has done extensive work to address the risks of exposure to penta and the other two heavy-duty wood preservatives, inorganic arsenicals (such as chromated copper arsenate, or CCA) and creosote. In addition to Pole Pollution, Beyond Pesticides also published Poison Poles, which examines the toxic trail left by the manufacture, use, storage and disposal of the heavy-duty wood preservatives from cradle to grave. On December 10, 2002, a lawsuit 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, known carcinogenic agents, hurt utility workers exposed to treated poles, children playing near treated structures, and the environment, and cites the availability of alternatives.
For more extensive information about pesticide-treated wood for utility poles and railroad ties, see Beyond Pesticides Wood Preservatives program page, and read Beyond Poison Poles: Elected officials say no to toxic utility poles in their communities, from the Fall 2014 issue of Pesticides and You.
Join Beyond Pesticides’ Poison Pole Campaign. Take a photo of the ugly pole in your neighborhood, on your street, at a bus stop, in a park, or even at your local playground. If people walk, live or play near the pole, show that in the photo, if possible. Include your name and the location of the photo and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30, 2015.
Source: Press Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.