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Study Suggests Power Poles Cause Cancer

Written by on Monday, 20 December 1999 6:00 pm

There is a new study out suggesting that high power lines, telephone lines and the like may indeed have an adverse health impact on children, not because of the power in the lines but because of the chemicals on the poles that hold the lines up.

According to the study, expected to be released by Environmental Protection Agency, children exposed to soil around utility poles treated with pentachlorophenol (penta), a wood preservative commonly used in pole treatment, face a risk of cancer 220 times higher than the EPA's acceptable limit.

The study has not yet been released, but the preliminary results were obtained by a group calling itself "Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides ."

An organization spokesman said, "The data means that two children born each day are pre-destined to contracting cancer from this exposure alone."

Wooden utility poles often are treated with penta and other chemicals to ward off rot and insects. Beyond Pesticides estimates there are 130 million wooden poles currently in use nationwide.

Beyond Pesticides said it had recently surveyed more than 3,000 utilities in the United States and Canada to learn more about the use, storage and disposal of wood poles.

The survey showed that after poles are taken out of service, 69 percent of utility companies would either give them away or sell them for alternative public uses.

"I think it is fair to say that we are shocked to learn how the utilities dispose of their old poles," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

One company received an award for donating and converting the contaminated wood into such things as outdoor classrooms and bird boxes.

At least one utility that gave away old poles also distributed with them a Material Safety Data Sheet, which points out that penta "has been found to have toxic effects in laboratory animals" and that exposure should be avoided during pregnancy.

Feldman said Beyond Pesticides would launch an effort to stop utilities from using wooden poles and make sure they were disposed of properly.

"What these companies are doing is burying their heads in the sand," he said. "Dozens of sites where the poles have been treated have become Superfund sites.

"Also, the utilities store thousands of wood poles at their yards, creating more contamination. And then, instead of properly destroying the old poles when they take them out of service, they give them away to unsuspecting farmers and homeowners who do not know the risk of handling or cutting the poles."

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