Schumer, others urge action on concerns about use of pesticide on utility poles

Associated Press

Elected officials and suburban New York residents called Monday for a federal environmental study on the use of the pesticide pentachlorophenol on wooden utility poles.

"I've seen no reputable study that gives me any comfort about the safety of having this chemical near our parks, near our groundwater, or in our backyards," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said during a news conference at a park in the town of North Hempstead, near Long Island Sound.

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Schumer and others want the federal Environmental Protection Agency to immediately investigate its use on utility poles, and he urged PSEG Long Island to halt the installation of any poles treated with the pesticide until a study is finished.

EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said the agency began re-evaluating pentachlorophenol, or penta, in December as part of a periodic review it performs on all pesticides. She said the EPA is working to assess the risks to human health and the environment.

"The EPA will have more details on the timing of our human health and environmental risk assessments and the specific opportunities for the public input by June," Mears said.

The agency's website says pentachlorophenol was once widely used in the United States but is now a "restricted use" pesticide that is no longer available to the general public. It is used to treat a variety of wood products.

It has previously been classified as a probable human carcinogen.

Schumer, who estimated at least 95,000 wooden poles on Long Island have been treated with penta, said he wants the federal agency to study its use specifically with the poles.

Spokesman Jeffrey Weir said in a statement that PSEG Long Island "is relying on the current EPA registration determination, which permits the use of penta in utility poles. If the EPA issues a revised determination, of course, we will respond and comply accordingly."

He said there are five wood preservatives used by utilities across the country, and that penta is on about 55 percent of all poles. "Penta-treated poles have a long, proven track record for withstanding the elements and protecting utility workers who work on these poles every day, and continue to be the preferred choice among utilities across the country," Weir said.

North Hempstead last year passed a local ordinance requiring utilities to post warning signs on poles treated with penta. PSEG Long Island has challenged that ordinance in court, claiming it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because the warning signs are not required on other types of treated wood.

Environmentalist Adrienne Esposito, who did not attend the news conference, also has been critical of the utility's use of penta on its poles. "We know the less exposure, the healthier we're going to be," she said.