Stray Voltage

Comic Nurse has done Infospigot a good turn by going out to the site of the John Peter Altgeld/Vachel Lindsay monument (“Eagle Columns”) on Chicago’s North Side and getting a picture of the installation. As part of a volley of posts touched off by my random blogging about forced beer drinking in old New York, CN (who also goes by the name MK), mentioned an incident connected with the Altgeld/Lindsay installation (at the corner of Sheffield, Wrightwood and Lincoln):

“A few years ago when I was a nursing supervisor at the nearby level-one trauma center, a woman was brought in with multiple dog bites to her arm. Apparently she was walking her dog near the Altgeld memorial and her dog stepped on the manhole cover. Normally a quiet lab, he began squealing, yelping and seizing. When she reached down to help him, he bit her. It turned out somehow the manhole cover was conducting electricity. The dog did not survive the accident.”

OK–there’s a freak occurrence for you. Right? Using the curious person’s favorite tool, I find that, depending on where you live, it’s not so unusual. A quick search turns up several high-profile cases in New York City, including one several years ago in which a woman walking her dogs died (the dogs survived). The family of the victim in that case, Jodie S. Lane, won a $7 million settlement from Consolidated Edison and used part of the money to set up a foundation dedicated to public safety in New York. But as the Gothamist blog has noted on several occasions since Lane’s death, the electrocutions, a product of “stray voltage” from nearby electrical installations like the manhole cover MK writes about. It’s an old problem and one that used to be associated mostly with dairy farm operations. On the public streets, the issue appears to be particularly acute in rainy or snowy weather (one recent example from Chicago).

InfraShock, a New York activist’s website, is devoted to alerting (or alarming) the public to (about) the danger. The New York City Council continues to study the problem. And ConEd, still trying to track down all the stray voltage it’s leaking into the street, has happened on a novel strategy to warn the public away from potentially hazardous site: The utility was found last year to be roping off the danger zones and hiring limo drivers to park nearby to ward off hapless pedestrians.

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6 Replies to “Stray Voltage”

  1. Many thanks for your excellent reportage on this hidden hazard. I would like to inform your readers of, a timely and useful tool intended to reduce their year-round risk of injury and fatality from stray voltage. Just so you know, I have met with Con Edison’s Stray Voltage unit and was the first non-electrical representative to attend the Jodie Lane Fourth National Conference in May. My recent benefit for shock victim Celia Sing appeared in last Sunday’s (12/7/08) Times City Section (Katherine Bindley, Reporter) on pg. 8. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you in advance.
    Best wishes and happy holidays!
    Blair Sorrel

  2. New York State
    Public Service Commission
    Three Empire State Plaza
    Albany, New York 12223
    To Whom It May Concern:
    My name is Jerry and I am a former employee of ECSM Utility Contractors. We tested outside electrical facilities for stray voltage in New York for National Grid as directed by the NYS Public Service Commission, or so everyone thinks. The fact is we simply made sure that the annual report given to the NYSPSC appeared to be in compliance. The system used to check the accuracy of our work is easy to fool. Our stray voltage testers verify that each outside electrical facility was tested for stray voltage by recording its GPS location. That is the only evidence that anyone was even at that electrical facility. The rest of the report for each outside electrical facility can be falsified with little chance of it being caught. I’ll explain how that is possible. ECSM Testers shoot the GPS location of each outside facility then test for stray voltage and take the appropriate action thereafter. ECSM Auditors then confirm the ECSM Testers’ results by checking 5% of the outside electrical facilities marked as accessible and 100% of the outside facilities marked inaccessible. Then National Grid Auditors confirm ECSM Auditors’ results by checking 5% of their accessible outside electrical facilities and 100% of their inaccessible facilities. Finally, NYSPSC Auditors confirm 5% of the National Grid Auditors’ accessible outside electrical facilities and 100% of their inaccessible.
    For Example: If an ECSM Tester checks 8000 outside electrical facilities within any given timeframe, then the ECSM Auditor verifies 400 of those facilities (8000 x 0.05 = 400). Next the National Grid Auditor checks 20 of the ECSM Auditor’s facilities (400 x 0.05 = 20). Lastly, the NYSPSC Auditor confirms one (1) of the National Grid Auditor’s facilities (20 x 0.05 = 1). So out of every 8000 outside electrical facilities marked accessible by ECSM Stray Voltage Testers, the NYSPSC confirms that only one (1) outside electrical facility is actually safe for the public. Therefore there is only a 0.0125% probable chance that ECSM personnel will get caught lying to public about the safety of the outside electrical facilities in the regions of NYS that they are responsible for inspecting.
    I am using a pen name to protect my Identity. I have received threats from former follow employees of ECSM Utility Contractors.
    Jerry ‘The Rent Collector’ Osgood

  3. Dear John Q Public:
    I used to be a Stray Voltage Tester, so I am comfortable in saying the following. It is more efficient and therefore less costly for the Testers to lie about the SV detected at each outside electrical facility. Seems ridiculous? The NYSPSC regulations regarding SV created work for unskilled/low skilled electrical workers in NYS. However these people work for subcontractors like ECSM Utility Contractors. It’s appealing for the electric companies to use subcontractors because the overall cost is cheaper. Likewise these subcontractors are given an opportunity to make a small fortune so long as they keep the electric company happy. Now ask yourself what’s going to keep the electric company happy? If the subcontractors want their bids with the electric companies renewed after the annual report to the NYSPSC has been released then they are going to do whatever they need to do to keep the electric companies happy. They ARE going to LIE. Stray Voltage measuring less than 1 volt is automatically ignored. Stray Voltage measured between 1 volt and 4 volts is documented; the electrical facility is roped off with yellow hazard tape and then ignored. Stray Voltage measuring from 4 volts to 8 volts is reduced by half before being recorded by order of the tester’s supervisor, then roped off with yellow hazard tape and ignored. WHY? Because the subcontractor mandates (upon itself) that any electrical facility with 4 or more volts of stray voltage must be confirmed by a supervisor prior to notifying the electric company. WHY? Because it costs too much for the electric company to make these confirmations using their own employees and it makes the subcontractor look bad if their people are wrong. Then why lie? Because the frequency of positive SV tests with a measured voltage of 1 or more volts is so high that the supervisors would spend all their time confirming Stray Voltage readings which means the annual report would never get finished on time. Thus the electric companies become unhappy with the subcontractors if they comply with the NYSPSC regulations.
    Take a ride out and look for telephone poles with yellow hazard tape on them, then check for SV. I won’t disappoint you. I can be reached for comment 24/7 at the below address and phone numbers.
    Jerry ‘The Extended Car Warranty Telemarketer’ Osgood
    518-746-9373, 22 Gates Ave., Fort Edward, NY 12828
    800-219-7425 or 508-947-4418
    Vehicle Services, Inc.

  4. Dear John Q. Public Jr.:
    So how do we catch ECSM Utility Contractors, Inc falsifying the stray voltage annual report to the NYS Public Service Commission? That’s easy! The NYS Public Service Commission already has several times since the start of the inspection program. They even have it on video! Well, perhaps National Grid has it on video. Nonetheless, ECSM Utility Contractors’ willingness to LIE to the NYS public is well documented and the NYS Public Service Commission is well aware of their past deception. Why hasn’t National Grid gotten rid of ECSM Utility Contractors? That’s because National Grid has ECSM Utility Contractors right where they want them. If ECSM Utility Contractors fails to keep National Grid happy then National Grid will not renew ECSM Utility Contractors’ work contract each November upon completion of the stray voltage annual report to the NYS Public Service Commission.
    In previous years, ECSM Utility Contractors was caught recording outside electrical facilities as ‘inaccessible’ to the public when in fact those facilities were close at hand. Outside electrical facilities designated as ‘inaccessible’ are those telephone poles that are impossible or improbable for the general public to reach on foot. As a result of this deception, NYSPSC developed an auditing method in which all outside electrical facilities marked as ‘inaccessible’ need to be confirmed by the NYSPSC. This created a time problem for ECSM Utility Contractors. Before the annual report can be submitted to the NYSPSC, ECSM Utility Contractors Auditors must confirm all ‘inaccessible’ outside electrical facilities, they must confirm all reported measurements of stray voltage and they must audit 5% of their stray voltage testers’ work marked ‘accessible’. NYSPSC Auditors confirm 100% of all ‘inaccessible’ outside electrical facilities. The other two categories are falsified by ECSM Utility Contractors in order to save time and money. The frequency of positive SV tests with a measured voltage of 1 or more volts is so high that the supervisors and/or auditors would spend all their time confirming Stray Voltage readings which means the annual report would never get finished on time.
    Let’s go back to the question: how do we catch ECSM Utility Contractors, Inc falsifying the stray voltage annual report to the NYS Public Service Commission? Again that’s easy. First you go to their website Next you surf to the Syracuse, NY office webpage and get the manager’s email address and phone number 315-463-8480. That’s Stan Kalsky. Next you let Stan know that you are looking for employment in Saratoga Springs, NY or any town/city north, such as Gansevoort, Glens Falls, Fort Edward, Ticonderoga, Whitehall, etc. He’ll set up an interview at the Panera Bread shop in Latham off I87 exit 7-6 for route 7. If the conversation goes well, then he will send you to have a drug test one exit down off I87. When he hires you ask Stan who your supervisor will be. If he says Jerry Osgood, then you are on your way to a Pulitzer Prize. After a few weeks working with Jerry Osgood he’ll start telling you to falsify your reports. Make sure to use a hidden camera and record every word. It won’t take long for Jerry to trust you. Just work hard and tell him a sad story about how much you need this job.
    Jerry ‘The Trojan Virus Guru’ Osgood
    518-746-9373; 22 Gates Ave., Fort Edward, NY 12828; 800-219-7425 or 508-947-4418

  5. It is not true that ECSM falsifies 100% of auditors readings in 2008, 2009 and early 2010.. I have no reason to stand up for them and don’t believe they do things the right way. I think in 2008 and 2009 they may have audited their 5% but prob did not check 5% of the auditors readings. That would mean that the auditors tested some readings on their own when they were not auditing.
    Probably like 1/2 of 1 percent of all units or maybe a few thousands of millions. They confirmed they were right because they did the units and were the most qualified people there to confirm them. I have knowledge to know this is true without a doubt. It is sad to see people just slander people so obviously. We need a real discussion about the safety in New York and not people attempting to retaliate cause someone made them work an extra hour or something. The years other than 2008, 2009 and early 2010, I don’t know about

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