Stray Voltage - No You are not Crazy

On July the 18th of 2002, we had just come back from a two-week vacation and I had gone out back to check the hot tub. I noticed there was a water line in the hot tub, and had stuck my arm in to clean it. Almost immediately it almost felt like my arm had fallen asleep, with a tingling sensation running up my arm. After about a minute it was a pain that shot up my arm and into my chest. I took my arm out, and honestly thought that I might have been having a heart attack. 36 years old, 5'8, 150 lbs, and physically fit, it didn't seem possible. Brushed it off, and the next day went back and put my hand in not thinking the problem was the hot tub. As soon as I stuck my hand in this time I got "jolted" by the shock. I called my wife out to come see if I was imagining things.

She put her hand in the hot tub.... nothing. I then asked her to take her shoes off and stick her hand in. She did and she was "jolted" by the shock. My fears were confirmed, a major electrical problem with the hot tub. We immediately called our electrician who came out in the morning. He tested with his fluke meter and was getting 8 volts of electricity from the hot tub. He than disconnected the meter pan and shut down all power to the house. He went back to test again and was still getting readings of 8 volts from the hot tub, the sprinkler system, and the water meter.

This is when the run around began. We called Jersey Central Power & Light, a subsidiary of First Energy. to determine where the problem was coming from. The first technician told us it was a faulty meter pan, the second said it was a problem inside my house, thirdly, it was referred to it's engineers who confirmed there was a problem, and they would be back to assess the problem. They never said whose problem it was, but they would look into it. They said maybe it's theirs, maybe ours, maybe the phone company or even the cable company. A head engineer of JCP&L, confirmed that there was a potential danger and advised us that we should not be using the pool or the hot tub, and our children should wear their shoes at all times while on the property. We have three sons, and it's the end of July with temperatures running up into the 90's. Keeping them out of the pool, away from the sprinkler and the water guns was not an easy thing to do. They certainly couldn't understand why, nor could we explain it to them, since we didn't understand.

Since mid July over one month had gone by with no more explanation as to why the problem was happening, but were insured that someone was working on it. Where they were working on it was beyond us, since we never saw anyone around. On August 7th, we sent a letter around to our neighbors notifying them of the potential problem, and the dangers it may have. More than 10 of our neighbors had contacted us explaining they had similar problems on their property. One of the neighbors stated the problem had gone back almost ten years.

Late August they stated there might be a problem with the neutral and intended on running 7,000 linear feet of new neutral cable in our neighborhood. While the testing was going on we had noticed the dogs hair was falling out in massive clumps. The Vet could not confirm or deny that the stray current was the cause of the problem. He stated he didn't know enough about the effects stray current has on animals and humans.

We had read an article in the paper about brown outs written by Joe Piccard at the Asbury Park Press. On a whim, we decided to call him to explain the problem, since we didn't seem to be getting anywhere with JCP&L. After he wrote his first story it seemed to snow ball, with over thirty families in Ocean and Monmouth Counties complaining of similar problems, while JCP&L dismissed them. The news stations in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey all jumped on the bandwagon broadcasting interviews from our home. JCP&L still maintained there were no major problems, not to worry about health issues, and they had planned on running 7,000 feet of new neutral cable.

After weeks of research, I had found a gentleman from Delaware, Don Zipsee, who was apparently an expert in "Stray Current" and the possible ill effects it may have on animals and people. With much pleading, we convinced him to come to our house to do some testing. His conclusion was that it was certainly a JCP&L problem, and we should definitely worry about the health risks associated with the stray current. If it could kill a cow in Wisconsin, we certainly had a valid concern. After Don had done his testing, and since JCP&L didn't seem too alarmed, we decided to hire an attorney, William Wolfe in Lakewood. Every JCP&L official who has been to our house reiterated that it is not safe to use the hot tub or pool, and they would not let their own children go in them as well. Our Mayor Joseph Scarpelli invites Pete Joyner, a JCP&L spokesman, onto his weekly television show. Pete states it's just a minor tingling, nothing to worry about, they are working on the problem. When questioned if he would allow his children and grandchildren in "our" pool or hot tub, he stated "NO" he would not.

It's now the beginning of September; they laid their cable, and drove a few large grounding rods at the substation as well as on our neighbors' front yard. Our readings are at between 6 and 8 volts depending on the time of day, temperature etc. Since we live in a "shore town" that has significant tourism, our concerns are that since the summer is over, everyone has gone home, the loads on the lines has decreased, that our numbers are lowering because of that. Everyone keeps telling us that only time will tell. Apparently JCP&L has lots of time on their hands.

Hundreds of phone calls and letters later, it was now June of 2003. JCP&L stated they have done everything they could do to fix the problem, and stated they will monitor the problem throughout the summer. After a considerable amount of complaining to the Board of Public Utilities, they decide to hire an independent consultant, Lou Vitale, to try and solve this "phenomenon". I'm no rocket scientist, but wouldn't the problem be solved if they yanked out the open neutral that runs down the pole and into the ground. When the system gets overloaded, the excess runs down the pole, into the ground, and tries to find it's way back to the substation. In the meantime looking for different grounding sources along the way. Like our houses, pools, swing sets, and anything else it can find.

Mid July Mr. Vitale recommends upgrades and changes that the BPU is forcing JCP&L to implement. JCP&L makes the changes requested by VitaTech, and the numbers on our property are now between 3 and 5 volts. Considering that last year was hot, humid, and drought conditions existed, and this summer is very cool and rainy, we are still very concerned that the numbers have decreased not due to the work completed but because of the climate changes.

Well, it now the middle of October 2003, the BPU and JCP&L both agree they have done everything possible to try and rectify the problem. During the summer we had massive blackouts down the shore, and the East Coast suffered it's worst black out ever. It has been determined that First Energy's (the parent of JCP&L) grids and system needed to be updated, and was indeed the cause behind the black out. Well, when you have a twenty-year-old system that was created to serve a very small part of the population, that is now intended to serve millions of people, of course you have a problem. We have been complaining about their system upgrade for almost two years now. Once again, time is apparently on their side. They are experts at dragging their feet.

In our eyes, we still have a major problem, regardless of the work they have or have not done. They simply upgraded neutrals in our neighborhood that should have been upgraded 10 years ago. Problem "NOT" solved. Our attorney is in the process of filing suit, and we are once again asked to wait. He states it will be about two years before it even goes to trial. In the meantime we have to pay consultants, and appraisers to prove our point. It just doesn't seem fair. They admit this is "their" problem. Why are we being put through this? We are also faced with the possibility that a judge would state that we have no damages and JCP&L did try to fix the problem to the best of their ability. We are then left holding the bag for thousands of dollars of legal fee's incurred. Then what? That reason is exactly why nobody else has pursued the problem on their property. Speaking out against it is VERY time consuming, very frustrating, and potentially very costly. First Energy is a multibillion dollar company, who am I? I guess only time will tell.

Gary F. Smith
3321 Doris Avenue
Ocean, NJ 07712
phone:(732) 531-7117
fax:(732) 531-1488

Mike Holt's Comment: I hear this story all of the time. The electric utility has a bad primary neutral (often caused by concentric neutral cable), resulting in elevated touch voltage on all metal parts of a home or agricultural building. Yet, the electric utility acts like the customer is crazy. Image this poor family having to deal with this for 15 months and now having to get an attorney….

There are lots of things the electric utility can do to fix this, but often the utilities bean-counter or the attorney gets in the way. Seems to me that the best approach is to give them a month to solve the problem, then get an attorney to cut to the chase. Speaking of attorneys, if you know of a great attorney that specializes in "stray voltage" litigation, let me know, I'll add a link to their website.

How do you know if the touch voltage is caused by the electric utility?
Step 1. Place one lead of a digital voltmeter to the metal part that has voltage and the other into the dirt or concrete. Record the voltage. It should not be more than one or two volts.
Step 2. Now turn off the power to the building (open the building disconnect). If the voltage remains the same, then the building wiring is not causing it. Call the utility and see if they will remove the voltage, but expect the saga to begin. By the way, I have an excellent paper on how the utility can remove dangerous touch voltage, it's located at:

The best book on this subject that I know of is "Silencing the Fields, In addition, you might want to visit, click on the "Technical" link, then click on the "Stray Voltage" link.

As always, your comments to my newsletter are appreciated, but they might be sent out as a follow up newsletter on this topic.

Copyright © 2002 Mike Holt Enterprises,Inc.
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