Deanna's Lyric

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News & Events

The Shocking Truth

Posted on September 8, 2012 at 3:40 AM

NBCSL Policy Committee Jurisdiction: Energy, Transportation, and Environment

Applicable Resolution: ETE-12-05

Background

Everyone has felt some low level form of static electricity, such electrostatic shock when touching a metal object in the winter. But, touching a light post, manhole cover, or fence that is in contact with frayed wire can be very dangerous. The worst part is one may never see the wire in question, making him or her completely vulnerable. Further complicating the problem is the decaying infrastructure across the country. Similar to the decay of roads and water infrastructure over time, electrical equipment also decays, and the equipment is struggling to keep up with the demand. Humans are not the only ones at risk; pets, unlike their human counterparts, are not wearing rubber shoes that protect them should they step on a cover or other conductive surface that could shock them. Pets are also unable to effectively communicate when they are shocked.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that it would cost $107 billion to keep our electrical equipment in good working order. Rolling black outs and inefficiencies in the United States electrical grid are estimated to cost $80 billion per year. The City of Seattle was originally told last year by its electric provider that 56 streetlights and covers had conducted electricity over 30 volts (anything under 50 volts is considered nonlethal); however, upon further review by the electric provider that number almost tripled to 156 instances.

 

This past December, NBCSL passed a resolution at its Annual Legislative Conference titled “PROTECTING THE PUBLIC FROM SERIOUS INJURY AND DEATH CAUSED BY CONTACT VOLTAGE IN OUR COMMUNITIES” sponsored by Representative Alan Williams (FL). The resolution calls on legislators to increase awareness of this unknown problem by informing their constituents and working with their regulators to ensure certain steps are taken to encourage public safety. In the months since the passage of the aforementioned resolution, bills have been passed in Maryland and Rhode Island to increase surveying by public utility companies to find where problems may exist.

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New York City’s Story

Most often, voltage dangers have been addressed reactively, such as after a person or pet dies, due to a lack of visibility of and foreknowledge about the problem. In New York, for example, Jodie Lane, a doctoral student at Columbia University died in 2004 from contact voltage while walking her dogs. The state regulator mandated that the state scan all of its assets as well as Department of Transportation assets for stray voltage. Quickly, the state’s regulator became aware of the extent of the problem—New York found over 34,000 energized objects between 2004 and 2009.

This revelation facilitated the development of a new, mobile scan technology to replace the manual testing of every object. Mobile scanning technology allows for increased detection, which has resulted in more repairs and data to monitor progress. Data showed that the number of people who reported being shocked dropped from 285 in 2004 to 84 in 2009

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Maryland’s Story

On May 5, 2006, in Baltimore, Maryland while 14-year-old Deanna Camille was playing softball, she was electrocuted by 277 volts when she touched a fence connected to a buried power line. In the wake of that tragedy, Deanna’s parents have relentlessly sought to bring attention to this largely ignored issue. They have traveled the country petitioning lawmakers to take action. The Green family attended NBCSL’s 35th Annual Legislative Conference in Chicago, Illinois to raise awareness.

Anthony “Bubba” Green and his wife Nancy Arrington-Green worked with state officials in Maryland to implement regulation that would target potentially high-risk areas. The Green family, however, would not settle for a regulation they believed did not go far enough. The family continued to push for additional regulation, and the Maryland legislature passed a bill, which was the first of its kind at the state level.

Title - House Bill 520, Electric Companies - Contact Voltage - Surveys and Mitigation - The Deanna Camille Green Act of 2012

Summary - The bill requires certain electric companies to file with the Public Service Commission for approval of a list of, or voltage survey plan for, newly created contact voltage risk zones on or before September 1, 2012. The bill also requires an electric company to conduct surveys of objects and surfaces, such as streetlights or lampposts, that are within contact voltage risk zones.

Benefits 

  • Increases scanning for stray and contact voltage in the state;
  • Increases oversight of scanning to ensure that screening actually takes place;
  • Increases safety for public areas that are most at risk for contact voltage; and
  • Increases reporting of contact and stray voltage.

Concerns - The electric provider in state was particularly concerned about the increased cost of surveying. There are concerns that the bill should cover the entire state and that this action will only impact certain areas of the state.

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Rhode Island’s Story

In Providence, Rhode Island, a Labrador puppy was electrocuted while walking down the street due to underground wiring that had deteriorated and energized a section of the asphalt.

Title - H 7532, RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS - DUTIES OF UTILITIES AND CARRIERS

Summary - The law calls for the identification of Contact Voltage Risk Zones and the immediate establishment of a plan to scan these areas within defined time limits using the best available technology. This law requires the Public Utilities Commission and the Rhode Island Division of Utilities and Carriers to establish a program to require electric utilities to conduct voltage detection surveys and complete timely repairs of faults contributing to contact voltage.

Benefits 

  • Increases scanning for stray and contact voltage in the state;
  • Does not limit scanning to merely the assets owned by the electric provider, but rather all assets touched by the electric provider;
  • Increases safety for public areas that are most at risk for contact voltage; and
  • Increases reporting of contact and stray voltage.

Concerns - The electric provider in the state was particularly concerned about the increased cost of surveying; so the bill established contact voltage risk zones so that it does not cover the entire state.

What Can Your State Do

Below is a list of similar policies your state can examine: 

  • Requiring and encouraging your utility providers to scan for stray voltage is undoubtedly the most successful tool that legislators have at their disposal to ensure these problems do not happen in your community. Increased scanning will help to find the problem areas.
  • Informing your constituents about the issue and encouraging them to report any stray voltage or live wires they encounter to the utility or other entity responsible for the problem.
  • Increase the reporting of stray voltage; the best way to know about how large this problem is, is to understand how often it happens. Currently, the greatest challenge with this problem is understanding where and how often it occurs.

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 Resources

http://www.deannaslyric.org - The Green Family’s website devoted to preventing further harm from contact voltage

http://strayvoltagenyc.org/ - Dealing with the steps taken in New York City following the death of Jodie Lane

http://www.contactvoltageinfo.org/ - a website dedicated to providing information about contact voltage across the United States

http://www.coned.com/publicissues/safety.asp- Consolidated Edison’s website which discusses how they address contact voltage and shows how it is detected

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