As Patch first reported last week, residents along the street where 65-foot poles were installed this summer as part of a reliability project undertaken by the utility grew concerned when they discovered what appeared to be pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative used to treat the poles, collecting on the soil below.
PSE&G spokesperson Karen Johnson said in an email that crews were dispatched to the street on Friday, Sept. 20 to remove the soil around seven of the poles and replace it with fresh topsoil.
“In response to complaints from residents, we are taking steps to address the staining that appears at the base of several recently installed utility poles,” she said.
Residents of the street, however, were suspicious of the work, alleging that the utility was removing “evidence” of a chemical leak. Workers reportedly arrived in unmarked rental vans wearing few markings identifying them as PSE&G employees.
According to Hope Street resident Alyssa Steinberger, when neighbors approached the crews to inquire about the work, they were told the employees were “improving the aesthetics of [the] street.”
“We’ve never complained about the ‘aesthetics’ of the dirt,” Steinberger wrote in an email to reporters. “I think it’s pretty obvious what we’re concerned about: our health.”
In a Sept. 20 letter to the BPU, which earlier this month heard a challenge by Ridgewood of the PSE&G project, Steinberger claimed that five adults and five children have suffered “bronchitis-like symptoms” believed to stem from pentachlorophenol vapors.
PSE&G officials have repeatedly maintained in hearings before state and local officials that the chemical has remained safe through decades of use by company employees, which the utility has said use no extra protection when handling the chemical or poles treated with it.
Information on the preservative
released by the EPA, which is responsible for its regulation, states that
cardiovascular, neurological and other health effects can be triggered by
ingestion of the chemical or inhalation within an enclosed area, and that there
have been reports of it in drinking water.
Bob Consadine, a spokesperson for the DEP, which received a report on the chemical leakage from Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser two weeks ago, previously told Patch that the agency rarely deals with cases of the chemical seeping into drinking water, and that the Ridgewood complaints had been referred to the Bergen County Department of Health.
The project remains under moratorium until a decision on Ridgewood’s petition is rendered by the BPU, which has not indicated a timeline for a ruling.