Monday, March 14, 2011

Toronto Hydro Issues Warnings After Dogs Electrocuted

Toronto Hydro is warning people about the dangers of contact voltage on city streets after two dogs were electrocuted earlier this month. Customers receiving bills this month also received a leaflet about contact voltage - electricity on the surfaces of outdoor structures like streetlights, signs and handwells (the small metal covers on the sidewalk surface). Contact voltage can present a potentially fatal shock hazard if people or animals come into contact with the surfaces. Animals are particularly vulnerable, said Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Denise Attalah, because unlike humans they almost always have at least two legs on the ground, providing a better path for electricity to travel through the pet and back into the ground. The warning comes after two dogs were electrocuted on Mar. 4 near Parliament Street and Queen Street East because of defective equipment from a Toronto Transit Commission pole. Both pets were killed, and a police officer was burned after trying to lift one of the dogs.



Aging infrastructure an issue

Attalah said the city's aging electricity infrastructure is partly to blame, but there are also other causes, like vibrations from streetcars. "That'll cause wires underground to shift. And freezing and thawing, which also affect [wiring]," she said. Toronto Hydro is upgrading some of the infrastructure, Attalah said. New polymer concrete handwells that don't conduct electricity are replacing the metal ones that currently dot the city.
The utility also has trucks patrolling the streets fitted with technology that can pinpoint contact voltage hotspots. Toronto Hydro has been conducting annual safety campaigns about contact voltage since a dog was electrocuted in west Toronto in 2008. The latest leaflet advises customers to walk as close to storefronts as possible in order to stay away from streetlights. It also advises pet owners to ensure they are using a leash made out of non-conductive material like nylon and to try and keep away from sources of contact voltage.
The danger is intensified in wet weather, the leaflet says.

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