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Jun 17, 2014 4:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Non-Profit Calls On State To Act Against Contamination From Utility Poles In East Hampton

Jun 17, 2014 4:29 PM

Dermody Consulting, the company hired by Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy to test the levels of chemicals on utility poles throughout East Hampton Village, is calling for “immediate action” on the part of the New York Department of State to rectify the “very likely” possibility that groundwater surrounding the poles has been contaminated.

In a letter addressed to the State Department of Health, Peter Dermody, principal hydrogeologist at Dermody Consulting, states that the poles have been installed in an area where “the depth to the water table is approximately 7 feet below grade.” The letter says that means there is a high possibility that poles treated with pentachlorophenol, a chemical wood preservative, have made direct contact with drinking water.

Residents with private wells are “the most susceptible to having their drinking water contaminated,” Mr. Dermody added.

Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy, an East Hampton non-profit organization, says that penta, as the chemical is commonly called, is “toxic” and a “serious threat” to public health and safety.

However, the State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2008 found that “the wood preservative uses of pentachlorophenol will not pose unreasonable risks to humans or the environment,” although it is not available to the general public, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

The utility poles, as well as a high-voltage transmission line, were installed starting in January by PSEG Long Island as part of a project to “harden” East Hampton’s electrical system, that is, to improve it and make it less likely to fail.

It is standard practice to treat utility poles with penta, according to PSEG spokesperson Jeffrey Weir, and it is the manufacturer of the poles that actually applies the chemical compound.

Mr. Dermody noted the Health Department’s contradiction by not taking action even after levels of penta found in the soil in East Hampton were found to be more than 300 times the level allowed by the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations.

“The conclusion in your letters that these concentrations are well below the levels that could be safely ingested by a child are inconsistent with the EPA’s findings regarding penta’s toxicity,” Mr. Dermody wrote in the letter.

“People don’t know and they don’t want to know,” said Rebecca Singer, co-chair of Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy, which recently filed suit against PSEG over the project, alleging that is a threat to public health and safety. “Even sharing the information with people is very hard, because they don’t want to believe it. They’d rather believe we’re crazy than deal with what’s going on.

“People think that we’ve been using it for years, and nothing has happened,” Ms. Singer continued, “but that’s not true. We don’t know the effects on pregnant women, children.”

The Alaskan non-profit Alaska Community Action on Toxins, which specializes in chemical policy reform and overall chemical awareness, is also calling out the State Department of Health for “not addressing the serious health hazards posed by the high concentrations of PCP from the treated utility poles” in a letter to Ms. Singer.

Alaska Community Action’s executive director, Pamela Miller, is a member of the steering committee of the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network, and an active member of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“PCP is either banned or has no use in all [European Union] member states,” she said in the letter, adding that 179 nations, in addition to the entire European Union, ratified a treaty banning the use of the compound.

The PSEG project, which was deemed to be “necessary” to ensure power reliability for this summer by the New York State Department of Public Service, remains incomplete. Work at the Amagansett substation has been halted since East Hampton Town issued the utility company a stop-work order in April. PSEG then filed a permanent injunction against the town in order to continue work, but the injunction has not yet been granted.

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