Hope Street residents are calling for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to investigate an apparent chemical leakage related to the newly installed PSE&G utility poles on the street.
The company maintains that it has a “strong environmental track record,” and that what appears to be a leak around the base of the poles is normal for new installations.
According to Alyssa Steinberger, a Hope Street resident who has been outspoken on what she contends are health issues related to pentachlorophenol, the wood preservative used to treat the poles, neighbors began noticing the substance around the base of the poles last week, and one particular pole near Hope and Spring elevated their concerns.
“We were walking by that one and it was really odd,” she said. “It literally looked like something is dripping clear out of it into the ground.”
Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser filed a report with the DEP last Tuesday afternoon, after finding that most of the poles on the road were “leaching” out what he suspected to be the preservative.
“I reported the dead grass, visible contamination, and odor complaints from the substances leaking from the poles installed by PSE&G,” he wrote in an email. Though no tests have been performed on the liquid, he said, the “cause and effect seems clear enough.”
Steinberger said that neighbors
have also filed reports with the DEP over odors present on the street, believed
to be from the preservative. Neighbors allege that the fumes have caused bronchitis and bloody noses.
Karen Johnson, a spokesperson for PSE&G, said last week that the company had not been aware of the report and had not yet been contacted about the issue, but that the chemical apparently being leaked is safe and poses no health or environmental dangers.
“Due to gravity, the preservative sometimes collects at the base of the pole and can be seen on the surrounding soil,” Johnson said. “This is perfectly normal and safe, and increases the life of the pole. Preservatives are most needed at the ground-line where soil contact and higher moisture exposure can cause poles to fail.”
Johnson added that the
preservative has been safely in use by employees for decades, and “does not
contain metals that can leach into the soil” and contaminate groundwater.
According to the EPA, which is responsible for regulating the chemical, the preservative poses cardiovascular, neurological and other health risks if ingested or inhaled in poor ventilation, and the federal agency permits no traceable levels of the substance in drinking water. While there have been reports to the EPA of pentachlorophenol in water supplies, the DEP said that it rarely deals with such cases.
“If it shows up in a water test we’d address it,” spokesperson Bob Consadine said. “But it’s not something that usually shows up in a water test.”
Consadine said that the Ridgewood reports were referred to the Bergen County Department of Health. The DEP, he said, does not typically investigate pentachlorophenol.
The poles, which are 65 feet high and will carry 69-kilovolt lines, are part of a company reliability project that has been challenged by the Village of Ridgewood.
Steinberger aired her concerns about the poles at a hearing on the project before the Board of Public Utilities Monday night, and said that a picture of the leakage was included in a report she prepared for the commissioners, though according to the board’s procedures such a resident report would not be considered as evidence in the case. The BPU has not yet indicated a timeframe for a decision on the project.