(Beyond Pesticides, September 14, 2018) A lawsuit first filed nearly a decade ago over dioxin contamination released from the storage of chemical treated utility poles was settled this week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Judge Richard Seeborg signed the agreement between California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the Ecological Rights Foundation (ERF), which commits PG&E to identifying storage yards holding treated poles, and implementing technologies that reduce dioxin levels through the year 2026. The utility poles of concern were treated with the chemical pentachlorophenol, which is regulated as a pesticide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is known to produce dioxin as a byproduct of its manufacture.
“Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science,” noted ERF attorney Fredric Evenson to KPIX 5. “This has been a hard-fought legal battle, but in the end PG&E now appears to understand that dioxin has no business in our bay, and will now take meaningful action to benefit San Francisco Bay’s wildlife and residents who eat locally caught seafood.”
As part of the settlement, PG&E is not required to admit any wrongdoing. “Because environmental stewardship is a guiding principle at PG&E, we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Ecological Rights Foundation to perform environmental testing on new storm water treatment methods of PG&E’s treated wood pole storage areas,” the utility said in a statement received by KPIX 5. “Northern California waterways may benefit from any enhancements to existing power pole storage practices and storm water treatment technologies PG&E adopts as a result of the testing,” the company said.
The original lawsuit was brought against PG&E under the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. After being dismissed in 2015, it was appealed to the 9th US Circuit Court and remanded back to the lower court after the judges determined ERF had standing to sue.
ERF pointed to 31 locations in central California where utility poles coated in pentachlorophenol were stored. Now, PG&E will need to implement measures to reduce to flow of dioxin into local waterways. The company has leeway in its approach, but options such as indoor storage, stormwater treatment upgrades are being considered.
PG&E could reduce dioxin levels by eliminating entirely its use of pentachlorophenol and wood-based utility poles, and opting instead for steel or cement poles.
Beyond Pesticides has long sounded the alarm against the use of hazardous wood preservatives for utility poles, as these chemicals – creosote, pentachlorophenol, and copper chromium arsenate – represent the most toxic pesticides currently allowed by EPA. A 1997 report Poison Poles, and 1999 follow-up Pole Pollution highlighted an issue that has been dismissed by EPA.
Pentachlorophenol was restricted from all uses except utility poles in 2004. Prior to that, the chemical was allowed for use in a range of wood products, even children’s playground equipment. In 2015, the Stockholm Convention, which provides a framework to moving persistent organic pollutants out of commerce, banned the use of the chemical as a result of human and environmental health impacts. However, the United States is not a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and has taken no further action to restrict the use of the chemical at the federal level.
Homeowners and individuals should avoid chemically-treated wood for home improvement projects, particularly in garden beds. Redwood, cedar, and cypress are woods naturally resistant to insects and rot, and other options include stone, metal, recycled plastic and wood-lumber plastic.
For more information on the toxicity of poison poles and alternatives to their use, see Beyond Pesticides most recent article on the issue, “Beyond Poison Poles.”
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: KPIX 5