Investigator: Channel 3 probe prompts sweeping safety changes

12:18 AM, Oct 11, 2011   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- As a result of a Channel 3 News investigation, Cleveland City Hall is making what it calls significant and sweeping changes to minmize your chances of getting shocked or killed by contact or stray voltage.

"Before the Channel 3 story, this wasn't even on my radar screen. I didn't know we had a stray voltage problem until I saw the report, " said City Councilman Kevin Kelley, the chairman of city council's public utilities committee.

"It highlighted the problem and really made us aware of it," said Ivan Henderson, the commissioner of Cleveland Public Power.

Henderson said CPP will sweep the entire city this year for stray voltage, testing every metal pole in the city.  He says the city has about 3,500 metal street lights.

After the initial sweep, Henderson said the new program will include reglar testing and maintenance. "We will sweep the city on a rolling basis year after year, " said Henderson.

As Channel 3 Investigator Tom Meyer first reported in May, contact or stray voltage is voltage that is found on energized objects like light poles, manholes, junction boxes and even sidewalks.

The stray voltage is usually the result of corroded or frayed wires or some type of infrastructure problem.  

In May, the New Jersey-based company, Power Survey, came to Cleveland at Channel 3's request to test for stray voltage.

The company uses a mobile scanning device that has uncovered 68,000 hidden electrical hazards across the country. Stray voltage has taken the lives of people and pets both here in Ohio and across the country.

"I've never seen voltage like that coming off a pole," said Tom Catanese, of Power Survey. Catanese was referring to a pole located near St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

Channel 3 news informed CPP of the potentially deadly pole and the utility repaired it immediately.

As a result of the Channel 3 stories, CPP will buy 20 handheld devices used to detect stray voltage. Each unit costs about $400.

"I think, at the end of the day, residents of the city of Cleveland will be safer, " said Kelley.

But Power Survey criticized CPP for taking the cheap route and purchasing devices that they say aren't nearly as effective as mobile scanners in detecting stray voltage.

When asked if CPP is wasting money by buying the handheld units, Power Survey's chief technological officer Dave Kalokitis said the devices just aren't very effective.

"I don't think the handheld units will bring them the kind of results they're looking for,"  said Kalokitis.

CPP officials disagreed, saying they found the units to effective elsewhere. "We have to be prudent about how we spend our resources," said Henderson.

CPP is also excited about a two-year pilot program it plans to launch this year. It will reconfigure the wiring on 100 metal poles in downtown Cleveland where pedestrian traffic is heaviest.

Officials believe the changes will minimize the chances of stray voltage becoming a hazard.

In Akron, First Energy says it not only repaired the stray voltage that channel 3 news found coming off a couple poles, but the utiity did its own testing.

A spokesman said the company checked what it called a representative sample of the 15,000 poles it maintains.  The spokesman said inspectors found no additional hazards on 525 poles in Cleveland, Akron and Toledo.


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