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New warnings to be released about toxic utility poles coated with ‘Agent Orange’ ingredient

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A settlement in the Orange County Superior Court concluded Thursday, with the decision that five major California utility companies will be required to warn the public that more than four million wooden utility poles across the state have been deemed toxic.

The battle was begun in 2009 by the California-based Ecological Rights Foundation, in light of news that the utility poles preservative Pentachlorophenol, a pesticide that contains dioxin, the toxic component of the Vietnam War defoliant “Agent Orange.” The chemical is one of only five that has been banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the use of it on poles only exists through a small loophole.

The chemical can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and even cause cancer. Children and developing fetuses are most at risk.

“It turns out that the oil seeping out of telephone poles is one of the most poisonous substances known to mankind. Kids touching those poles are at extreme risk, but utilities have resisted even talking about this threat, much less fixing the problem. The court’s ruling is the first step, acknowledging the problem, and warning the public. The next step is replacing the preservative with safer alternatives, moving utilities underground, or replacing wooden poles with steel, composite, or concrete poles that don’t cause cancer and birth defects.” Rachel Rosner, an Ecological Rights Foundation Director.

In response to the settlement, California residents will now receive warnings about touching utility poles on residential streets, near bus stops, schools, and playgrounds. The warnings will be delivered with billing statements sent to utility customers.

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