Electrocuted while walking the streets of Baltimore? One company argues it's possible

Power Survey challenges BGE on contact voltage

It has been eight years -- eight years since 14-year-old Deanna Camille Green died almost instantly on a Baltimore city softball field by simply touching two parts of a metal fence while stretching in the on deck circle.

Her mother still remembers looking away as her daughter swung her leg up onto the fence.

"I said, ‘Deanna?’ She didn't look quite right.  She started to lean, and I called her name, ‘Deanna!’  She kept falling, so I caught her and I called for help," her mother Nancy Arrington-Green recalled.

She didn't know it then, nobody did, but Deanna was electrocuted by what Arrington-Green says was 277 volts.

What caused it was a live wire buried under the ground making a connection with the metal fence.

The term is called contact voltage, and especially in older cities like Baltimore, aging infrastructure can become electrified by older live wires underground, a seemingly phantom threat that suddenly became very real for Arrington-Green’s family.

"Deanna left us with a homework assignment.  That is what I always say,” her mother said. “She left us with a homework assignment, and we have to follow through from beginning to end."

The beginning was determining who was at fault, becoming familiar with the issue and even lobbying to pass a law here in Maryland.

The Deanna Camille Green rule now forces every utility in the state to determine contact voltage risk zones, those areas with high pedestrian traffic, and test them for dangerous electrified objects we come in contact with every day.

From the manhole covers we walk over to lamp posts we may lean on,  just after the most recent contact voltage survey performed here in Baltimore, the Greens feel Baltimore Gas and Electric is not following the letter of their daughter's law.

"We basically feel like that BGE selected a company that could not find the issue.  It's been proven, we have data to prove it," Deanna’s father Anthony “Bubba” Green said. "We just want to know, ‘how did they miss 2,000 spots in Baltimore City alone?’"

That number 2,000 comes from the difference between two reports -- the 268 contact voltage spots BGE found on its 2013 survey, and the 2,225 a different company found during what it says was a similar survey.

David Kalokitas is with Power Survey, the other company, and the one the Greens feel has better technology to detect dangerous contact voltage.

"These are breakdowns. These are faults that change over time, and they get worse over time. So, the powerful thing one can do here is find these things when there is a few volts on them and then go the next step. Look inside, see what is broken.  Make a repair. That prevents them from getting to voltages which are clearly lethal," Kalokitas said.                     

To prove it, the Greens and Power Survey took the In Focus team out in Baltimore to show us the danger coursing through our streetscape.

Grounded on the other end, an instrument gets a reading of 115 volts on a light pole right outside Gate F at Camden Yards -- enough electricity to produce sparks off the metal pole and enough current to literally power a light bulb.

Kalokitas says his company found about 2,000 more contact voltage issues than the company contracted by BGE.

According to Power Survey's own results though, many of them are not near the level of voltage that could hurt someone or be lethal. About 96 percent of their findings were under 25 volts, but Kalokitas says even small readings can quickly grow into larger ones like at another location they showed us at St. Paul and East Madison Street in Mount Vernon.

At the Mount Vernon location, Power Survey found a pole energized with 105 volts, but only when the crosswalk sign is blinking and when St. Paul has the green light.

Still, it’s enough voltage Kalokitas says to travel to a nearby pole and any passerby that touches them both can create an arc he says could kill.

"I mean you are literally standing here waiting for the light to change like this and that could kill you.  That is what it can take. Leaning like this, the light turns green and its lights out," Kalokitas demonstrated while wearing protective gear.

We took these findings to BGE and asked about the disparity between the two surveys. 

The utility company repeatedly declined our request for an on camera interview but did tell us by phone it is using an approved technology and reputable company that won the bid to do the work fair and square.

The discrepancy in the two sets of result, BGE says, may very well be several readings from one single contact voltage issue. It is BGE policy to repair the points as their crews find them along the way.

BGE says it has done the surveys since 2009 before the Green rule went into effect. The company is already three quarters through its 2014 survey.

The utility company says safety is a top priority and assures its contact voltage surveys go well beyond what the state law suggests.

The company BGE chose to do the work is Long Island, New York- based Premier.

Premier also declined an on camera

interview about the Green's challenge but provided In Focus with the following statement that read in part, “Premier uses the latest in detection technology…In conducting contact voltage surveys for BGE Premier has met both the technical and commercial qualifications as required by the standards."

To read Premier’s full statement [CLICK HERE]

Premier also noted it is being sued by Power Survey.

The In Focus team found a lawsuit filed in a New Jersey federal court accusing Premier of copyright infringement on some of the technology it uses.

Premier also says Power Survey has a history of challenging Premier's results in five other media markets, each time bringing television cameras along as it did with us in Baltimore.

But the Greens feel it is not just a show.

They are very publically questioning how one company can find almost eight times more locations of dangerous contact voltage in Baltimore than the other -- a disparity they feel needs answers before what happened to Deanna...happens again.

"We are gonna push until something happens and that is what we are going to do. We are going to continue to push this and not let it be in vain, because her life meant a lot to a lot of people," her parents said.

Both companies that do this kind of work to detect sources of dangerous contact voltage and stray electricity originally placed bids for the contract with BGE.

Both Power Survey and Premier met the guidelines set out by the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Those guidelines ensured each company had the equipment to reliably detect voltages registering between 6 and 600 volts.

The PSC approved both but Premier won the contract with BGE, a company the utility says it has full confidence in to perform the job.

To read the full statement BGE provided to In Focus [CLICK HERE]

 


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