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Lawmakers propose state law banning penta on utility poles

Judi Bosworth, Town Supervisor of North Hempstead, holds

Judi Bosworth, Town Supervisor of North Hempstead, holds a new warning label to be posted on utility poles to alert residents of its toxic preservatives, the first time a local municipality has called for such labeling, in Manhasset on Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Heather Walsh

Two Long Island lawmakers are proposing a state law to ban the future use of utility poles treated with the "probable carcinogen" known as penta.

The proposed law, which would also require warning labels on existing penta-treated poles, follows by two weeks passage of a law in North Hempstead requiring similar labeling on poles. East Hampton Town is considering a law similar to North Hempstead's.

Both laws take aim at the wood preservative pentachlorophenol, which the EPA has described as "extremely toxic" to humans and a "probable" human carcinogen. It's banned for most uses, except for utility poles and railroad ties, among other uses.

Residents in North Hempstead and East Hampton have protested the installation of hundreds of large poles in their towns as part of new electric transmission lines by PSEG Long Island. The poles, some up to 80 feet tall, are thicker than standard utility poles, and made to withstand hurricane force winds.

The state law was proposed by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

"The federal government has made it clear that PCP [pentachlorophenol] is a dangerous chemical and has outlawed its use by the general public," Thiele said. "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."

Added LaValle, "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."

PSEG spokesman Jeffrey Weir didn't comment directly on the proposed law, but in a statement said, "For PSEG Long Island, the health and safety of our customers and employees is a top priority. Utility poles are treated with preservatives so that they can withstand the elements and last for decades."

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