Delayed by health concerns, PSEG’s project to move forward

A utility pole in Mattituck. PSEG will move forward on a project to install new utility poles. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A utility pole in Mattituck. PSEG will move forward on a project to install new utility poles. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Southold Town is requesting PSEG Long Island move forward with its plan to install new utility poles treated with a preservative called pentachlorophenol, or “penta,” which has been linked to cancer and groundwater contamination. 

Southold has been selected by PSEG as one of the first towns to receive power system upgrades as part of a $729 million effort to repair the region’s electric grid and protect it from extreme weather.

However, growing health and environmental concerns prompted the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association to request that the power company delay installation of any penta-treated poles until safer, more eco-friendly alternatives to penta can be explored.

Although PSEG representatives agreed to stall the Southold project, Mr. Russell said doing so could cost the town in the long run. This is because the Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding the multi-million dollar system upgrade in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which severely damaged PSEG’s transmission and distribution system.

Mr. Russell said if the town doesn’t opt into the project now, the money may disappear and Southold may no longer be eligible to receive the upgrades it needs to weather severe storms.

“A delay is not an option at this point. A delay would mean the project is done,” Mr. Russell said. “My concern is that if we don’t allow PSEG to make the upgrades, we’re not going to have the ability to upgrade the infrastructure in this town for a long time. At this point, the possibility of prolonged power outages during storm events might pose more of a public safety risk than the use of penta.”

Work on the project is now expected to begin next week, a PSEG spokeswoman said.

And for the utility’s part, she said they stand by the use of the chemical.

“For PSEG Long Island, the health and safety of our customers and employees is a top priority,” the PSEG spokeswoman said. “PSEG Long Island relies on the current EPA registration determination, which permits the use of penta in utility poles. Should the EPA issue a revised determination, we will, of course, respond and comply accordingly.

“We are comforted by the fact that when, in response to concerns about the use of penta in East Hampton, Long Island, the NYS Department of Health concluded that the use of penta-treated utility poles there does not ‘result in a significant risk for adverse health effects.’”

There are five wood preservatives used by utilities to preserve polise in the U.S., she added, with penta capturing 55 percent of the market.

[email protected]