Legislative Memo

Darren Suarez
Director of Government Affairs
T 518.694.4461


S.3001 (LaValle) / A.2333 (Thiele)



Pentachlorophenol Utility Poles



June 14, 2018


The Business Council opposes this legislation that provides that no electric company, authority, telephone corporation, utility company or cable television shall apply pentachlorophenol (penta) to the operation, use, or maintenance of any new or existing transmission utility poles or facilities. The Business Council opposes this legislation as it is unwarranted. Utility poles need a wood preservative and studies confirm that PCP does not migrate from utility poles. 

Wood utility poles are treated with a chemical wood preservative to protect them against fungal decay and a variety of wood destroying pests, including insects and microorganisms. 

If the poles are not treated, pest can compromise the structural integrity of the pole, ultimately resulting in pole failure. When poles break, people can be injured and property can be damaged or destroyed. Additionally, downed poles can result in service disruptions.  

Protection against decay and pest destruction greatly extends the lives of poles. By increasing the time that poles can be used, utilities and utility customers avoid the cost burden of more pole replacements.

All preservatives wood preservatives are pesticides, and as such, they must be registered for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).┬áThere are five preservatives for utility poles that are used in North America: Pentachlorophenol, Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), Copper Naphthenate (CuN), Creosote, and Ammoniacal Copper Zinc Arsenate (ACZA). In the United State there are about 36 million penta-treated poles in service across (60% of the total 60 million treated utility poles).

Research on penta treated utility poles indicates clearly that penta does not migrate through soil and does not represent an environmental concern. The Electric Power Research Institute in 1997 examined 180 penta-preserved poles to determine the distribution of pentachlorophenol in soils around the poles on the surface and at several depths. The study concluded that mean penta concentrations are greater than the residential benchmark within 3 inches of the pole but not at a distance of 8 inches. Significantly elevated mean levels of pentachlorophenol were not detected beyond 8 inches and the concentrations of penta did not exceed the Industrial Benchmark at any distance.  

Even lower penta levels were observed in a similar study conducted by EPRI (1995) in New York State. The New York study collected samples from several distances and depths proximate to 31 in-service utility poles in the State. The study analyzed the samples for several physical and chemical parameters, such as pH, total organic carbon, total petroleum hydrocarbons, and chlorinated phenols. They also conducted soil/water partitioning and biodegradation studies on the site soils.

The data clearly showed that the highest preservative concentrations remain close to the poles. No simple pattern of contamination was identified with respect to sample depth. Overall, the results indicated that penta contamination is contained in the near-vicinity of the utility pole; but migration is highly dependent on localized factors such as soil type, soil chemistry, local weather and topography, initial level of pole treatment, age of pole, and other factors.  

The result from these two studies and others have helped the EPA re-registered and approved the use of penta to treat wood utility poles. 

In summary, pentachlorophenol remains an environmentally safe, cost-effect pole treatment, whose use should be maintained in New York State.

For these reasons The Business Council opposes this legislation.