PSEG Long Island has begun transitioning away from smaller utility poles treated with the controversial preservative pentachlorophenol, citing cost and logistical issues.
Community groups and lawmakers from Montauk to Port Washington have expressed concerns about the use of the preservative, also known as penta, because of federal warnings that it is "extremely toxic" to humans and a probable carcinogen. Applied in a thick oil base, the preservative can leach into soil around poles.
The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing penta's current uses, and many local groups and officials have weighed in against its continued use in utility poles. A state bill proposes banning penta poles, and North Hempstead passed a law requiring such poles be labeled with warnings.
In its place, PSEG is turning to poles treated with the preservative CCA, or chromated copper arsenate. CCA-treated poles have been the ones of choice for smaller poles on the distribution system in PSEG's sister company, PSE...G of New Jersey, for years, PSEG said.
Cost was a primary factor. "When we looked at the options, we saw significant savings if we brought in more CCA for smaller poles," a PSEG official said. "Right now it's an economic choice to do more CCA."
PSEG sets around 4,000 poles a year, around three-fourths of which are a smaller size for use in neighborhoods. As many as 3,000 poles a year could transition to CCA, officials said. There are about 325,000 LIPA poles on the system, and they cost about $6,000 each.
Two PSEG officials, who asked not to be named, stressed that the transition was still in an early stage, and that pricing factors could alter the plan. "We have started buying and ramping up on CCA poles," one official said. "Conditions could go the other way."
"By using a mix of poles and increasing the use of wood poles with CCA for largely economic reasons," the company seeks to "ensure our customers are getting the most reliable system at the least cost," PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said.
Environmental factors weren't the primary consideration, one official said. Both penta and CCA are restricted-use pesticides that are approved by the EPA for utility poles. Elements of CCA are known carcinogens when inhaled or ingested.
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said she was "disappointed" by PSEG's move. The town passed a law requiring warning labels on poles treated with toxic preservatives. PSEG filed suit in federal court to quash it.
"It just seems that by exchanging penta for CCA, PSEG is asking our residents to pick their poison," she said. "We will encourage our utility companies to use nontoxics for poles."
PSEG will still use penta treatment for poles 60 feet or higher.
PSEG, which is in the process of replacing an estimated 14,000 poles as part of a three-year storm-hardening initiative under a $729 million federal grant, will initially use penta poles for that project, but that "will continue to be evaluated," Weir said.