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I-Team: Dangers of stray voltage

Posted on February 25, 2011 at 3:45 AM

PROVIDENCE -- A New Jersey power company told the NBC 10 I-Team it has identified more than 40 contact voltage locations in Providence that could potentially kill people and pets.

Contact voltage or stray voltage is voltage on an object that should not be energized. It may include lamp posts, manholes, gratings, junction boxes as well as sidewalks and adjacent buildings.

Power Survey Co. is contracted by New York City, Buffalo, N.Y. and other urban areas to detect potentially deadly voltage sites.

"The problems will pop up all over the place. We do repeated testing in cities around the country. Some cities we do 12 times a year. In some cases we find hundreds of new problems," said Thomas Catanese of Power Survey Co.

David Kalokitis, chief technical officer of Power Survey Co., said a pole located at Elmwood Avenue and Westfield Street gave off 113 volts. The voltage can be deadly to pets and people.

NBC 10's Jim Taricani: "Let me ask you this. It's the summer and someone's standing here barefoot and it was wet. They put their hand on that."

Kalokitis: "Bad news. Wet feet, you got the conductivity there because of the moisture. You put your hand on that, you got the contact to the ground, that's when you get shocked. One hundred thirteen volts, that's line voltage, the same as a wall socket in your house."

At the lower end of Atwells Avenue, another test shows a light pole spewing voltage into the ground.

"Eighty-three volts right there in the ground. This is what makes this dangerous. There's wet ground here. This is something a dog could step on...they see volts across the body and that's when they get a shock," Kalokitis said.

Kalokitis said the shock is enough to kill a dog.

On Jan. 27, a Labrador retriever puppy named Luna was apparently electrocuted when it walked over a manhole cover on Angell Street in Providence.

Following the puppy's death, animal rights advocates said they want something done about stray voltage.

"I just have a vision of that dog dying, as you know I had to figure out the cause of it. Whether it was systemic and whether it was a threat to other people and other animals," said Roz Rustigian, a board member of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"I feel very strongly that National Grid needs to take responsibility," said Karin Morse of the Providence Animal Rescue League. "(It) needs to do a survey and respond to any situation where there's any higher level of voltage."

Another test on a handrail on Hope Street, not far from where the puppy was electrocuted, showed more stray voltage.

Catanese: "What you're seeing is what would pass through a person's body or animal's body if they were to come in contact with that hand rail."

Taricani: "Now, would that kill an animal?"

Catanese: "Absolutely. Absolutely. It would kill a person."

Catanese said his company, Power Survey Co., came to Rhode Island last year and met with the Public Utilities Commission. The company drove a PUC official around and pointed out the potentially deadly stray voltage spots in Providence. Catanese said the PUC wasn't interested.

"We are prepared to investigate any issues surrounding utility safety and reliability reported to us by utilities and the general public," said Tom Kogut, a PUC spokesman.

"National Grid inspects and tests its facilities for stray voltage levels. The risk of exposure through every day activities is very low. We encourage customers to call us if they have concerns about stray voltage," according to a statement from National Grid.

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