The pole, manufactured by Atlantic Wood Industries and installed by Central Vermont Public Service, is on Al Chicote’s property on the side of Mount Anthony. It was over-saturated, however, with pentachlorophenol, or PCP, a synthetic chemical used to preserve utility poles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chemical easily enters the body through the lungs by breathing, through the digestive track in food and water or through the skin. It can have harmful impacts on the liver, kidneys, blood, lungs nervous system, immune system and gastrointestinal tract.
Ashley Desmond with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation said the chemical is effective at reducing mold, decay and insect deterioration. It does not typically run from a pole into the ground, he said. In fact, no such case had been documented in Vermont prior to 2009, according to Desmond.
“It’s not good for you, but typically you wouldn’t see the stuff leaching off a pole as we have seen at the Chicote property,” he said. “We believe that was due to the improper treatment to that particular batch of poles.”
The pole had a strong odor when first installed, causing immediate concern, Chicote said.
“The day they put out the poles in I could smell it in the air. Everybody said, ‘Oh don’t worry, it’s just a new pole,’” Chicote said. “About a month later I started smelling it in the water. I thought, ‘Am I really smelling this in the water?’”
He then began “tasting what it smelled like” when he drank the water. “It really turns your stomach to taste it,” Chicote said. “It’s not pleasant stuff.”
A call to the Vermont Department of Health resulted in instructions to not drink the water or use it to bathe or wash clothing, he said.
It was about a month without water before any action was taken by CVPS or the state, though, according to Chicote. “Nobody made any effort to see that we had potable water,” he said.
The pole was eventually removed in June 2009, Chicote said. But not before the PCP entered the drinking water system on the property. CVPS, at the direction of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, installed a water filtration system. The utility also dug a new well on the property, according to CVPS spokesman Steve Costello.
“CVPS takes its responsibility to Vermont, our customers and the environment very seriously, and with guidance from the state’s experts, has made a tremendous effort to mitigate the issue and address Mr. Chicote’s concerns. CVPS has followed the recommendations of the State of Vermont’s Waste Management Division in every way,” Costello wrote in an e-mail to the Banner.
Chicote, however, says no real progress has been made.
“In a nutshell, we are no further along than we were when this happened. We still don’t know if our water is drinkable,” he said. “This whole thing … has totally gotten out of hand. I would like to have my water system back the way it was before they contaminated it.”
Costello said Chicote’s water was tested by the state in July 2009, revealing it was contaminated with pentachlorophenol at about 6 parts per billion. The drinking water standard is 1 part per billion.
“CVPS immediately investigated the matter and removed the pole closest to Mr. Chicote’s spring, along with two other poles, and replaced them. To be cautious, we also removed eight tons of soil,” Costello wrote.
The water treatment system was installed based on instructions by the state, Costello said, and the water was monitored. PCP levels “began dropping almost immediately,” he said. The level soon dropped below the threshold, he said.
“CVPS and the state both performed regular testing in 2009 and 2010, including samples from the tap, from the spring source, and from a stream flowing from the spring,” he wrote. “All samples have met the applicable drinking water standard since August 2009. … The state determined that we had appropriately addressed the problem and stated that the filter system could be removed.”
Chicote said there are several ways to test for PCP, however. There are discrepancies as to which method has been used, he said.
“There’s a lot that I disagree with and it’s all based on my own little investigation,” he said.
Additionally, Chicote said he is concerned with a ledge on the property where he believes PCP could be “locked in.” The area is near where CVPS dug out the eight tons of soil. PCP levels were very high in the area, and could potentially migrate back into the water system, Chicote said.
No testing has taken place since December, he said. He is now working to arrange for independent testing on the property, and expects that to take place beginning in April, but the testing will be ongoing for about a year.
“We’ve been told by the DEC that CVPS will be picking up that tab,” Chicote said. “Where the big sticker is is (CVPS) still wants to put their man on site.”
Costello said CVPS hired an outside consultant in January but Chicote has so far not allowed access to the property.
“We are currently attempting to work with the state to satisfy his concerns and move forward with the monitoring and reporting plan,” he said.
A similar situation took place in Clarendon in September 2009. FairPoint Communications installed a pole that also led to PCP contamination.
In that case, FairPoint provided a much faster and better effort to mitigate the damage, Chicote said. A new well was immediately dug, the home’s pipes were replaced and a new dishwasher was installed, he said.
“Anything that the water touched [in Clarendon] was replaced,” he said. “When they came here there was no DEC people present.”
“This should have been resolved a year ago and why it hasn’t is well beyond my comprehension,” Chicote added. “In a sense I feel like I’m leading the way.”
Livestock from a nearby property may also have been impacted. Chicote said a neighbor had at least one sheep die after licking the pole. There is no evidence to support the conclusion, Costello said, but CVPS worked to address the neighbors concerns anyway and purchased several of the animals.
“We had a customer who alleged sheep had licked the stuff. Although there’s not evidence that anything related to this affected any sheep, we reached a settlement and paid for the sheep,” Costello said.
Meanwhile, Atlantic Wood, the pole manufacturer based in Savannah, Ga., said it, too, took proactive steps to ensure public safety.
Tom Greene, the company’s vice president of utility sales, said the pole installed on Chicote’s property is “a pretty rare event.” The company allowed CVPS to send back any poles from the same batch that the utility wasn’t comfortable with. About 40 to 50 were sent back, according to Greene.
“We agreed to take some poles back just to alleviate some concern,” he said. We basically said, ‘We’re not going to question you.’ We don’t want any problems with the consumer.”
Costello said CVPS will continue to work with state officials and Chicote to alleviate his concerns.
Chicote, meanwhile, said he is looking forward to full assurance that his property is chemical-free. “This has eaten up two years of our lives,” he said.
For now, lawyers and lawsuits are not involved, but that could change, Chicote said.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org