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Schumer urges ban on poles treated with toxic preservative

Sen. Charles Schumer speaks at Manhasset Valley Park

Sen. Charles Schumer speaks at Manhasset Valley Park on Monday, March 9, 2015, about the utility poles on Long Island that have been treated with the toxic chemical penta. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Sen. Charles Schumer urged PSEG Long Island Monday to stop using pentachlorophenol, a toxic wood preservative, to treat wooden utility poles.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the Environmental Protection Agency, which is already reviewing the chemical commonly known as penta, to immediately conduct a "comprehensive federal study."

"These chemical-ridden utility poles are then stuck into the grounds and put in close proximity to our soil and groundwater," Schumer said at a news conference at Manhasset Valley Park. "Massive installation of these poles adds up to a serious problem."

The EPA describes the chemical as "extremely toxic to humans" and a "probable" human carcinogen. The chemical's use is largely restricted, save for wooden utility poles, railroad ties, and some industrial uses. Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth in January wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging the EPA to ban the chemical. State legislators in September proposed a statewide ban.

PSEG has said about 95,000 of its 324,000 poles on Long Island are treated with penta.

"For PSEG Long Island, the health and safety of our customers and employees is a top priority. PSEG Long Island is relying on the current EPA registration determination, which permits the use of penta in utility poles," spokesman Jeffrey Weir said in a statement. "If the EPA issues a revised determination, of course, we will respond and comply accordingly."

Weir added that "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."

When the utility last year proposed adding taller and more storm-resilient poles throughout North Hempstead and in East Hampton, residents and officials objected and called the poles unsightly. But the conversation soon turned to the health effects of penta.

Bosworth called Schumer's support "critical" to the effort to ban penta. PSEG Long Island is suing North Hempstead over a proposed law requiring utility companies to identify the use of penta on the poles with a sign.

Schumer said despite the suit, "I hope they'll cooperate . . . they're a community-minded organization."

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