EPA Announces Phase Out of Arsenic Treated Wood

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, February 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with the construction industry to reduce the use of pressure treated wood containing arsenic in homes, playground equipment and other consumer goods. While applauding the effort, environmentalists warned today that the measures do not move far enough, or fast enough, to protect the public health.

Over the next 22 months, the agreement would move consumer use of treated lumber products away from wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, also known as CCA, in favor of new alternative wood preservatives. The initiative affects almost all residential uses of CCA treated wood, including wood used in play structures, decks, picnic tables, landscaping timbers, residential fencing, patios and walkways/boardwalks.


The EPA will ban the use of CCA in all playground equipment as of January 2004 (Photo courtesy Beyond Pesticides)
By January 2004, the EPA will not allow CCA products for any of these residential uses, Whitman said.

"This action will result in a reduction of virtually all residential uses of CCA treated wood within less than two years," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Today's announcement greatly accelerates the transition to new alternatives, responding to market place demands for wood products that do not contain CCA. This transition will substantially reduce the time it could have taken to go through the traditional regulatory process."

CCA is a chemical compound mixture containing inorganic arsenic, copper and chromium that has been used for wood preservative uses since the 1940s. CCA is injected into wood by a process that uses high pressure to saturate wood products with the chemicals.

CCA, like other wood preservatives, is intended to protect wood from dry rot, fungi, molds, termites and other pests. But it can leach out of treated wood in surrounding soil, surface and groundwater, exposing residents and schoolchildren to arsenic and other toxins.


In the U.S., inorganic arsenic is primarily used to preserve wood, such as this pressure treated lumber (Photo courtesy American Wood Preservers Institute)
According to the National Academy of Sciences, exposure to arsenic causes lung, bladder and skin cancer in humans and is suspected as a cause of kidney, prostate and nasal passage cancer.

Last December, 13 national, regional and state environmental groups petitioned the EPA to ban CCA and other wood preservatives, including dioxin containing pentachlorophenol (penta).

Today, the groups said that while they welcome any action that reduces continued exposure to these chemicals, which are linked to cancer, nervous system damage and birth defects, they say that there is no justification to allow continued public exposure because alternative materials are available.

"Nothing short of a ban of all uses of the hazardous wood preservatives will protect the public from the chemical's short and long term adverse health effects," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. "Since less toxic and non-toxic alternatives are available for all wood preservative uses, it is wrong and unnecessary to allow any use to continue," Feldman added.

The Healthy Building Network (HBN), which advocates the use of safer building materials, called the agreement a "victory for consumers and families that will prevent most arsenic exposure to kids."

"This dramatically alters the face of a $4 billion dollar industry," said Paul Bogart, campaign coordinator, Healthy Building Network (HBN). "This phaseout will eliminate the sale of about 85 percent of arsenic treated wood."

However, it does not address other types of wood treatment, such as penta and creosote, which carry their own health and environmental problems. Beyond Pesticides says CCA accounts for about 10 percent of all the wood preservatives in use in the U.S. today, and the current agreement will eliminate about half of that use - leaving 95 percent of wood preservative use untouched.

Industrial uses of CCA treated wood, including utility poles, boat bulkheads, dock pilings, wood decking and many other applications will still be permitted.


The phase out announced today will not affect the nation's 130 million utility poles treated with CCA and other toxic substances (Photo courtesy Beyond Pesticides)
The EPA's announcement also fails to address the billions of board feet already in use, an oversight which HBN called "a missed opportunity to solve the equally serious problem of arsenic leaching from existing playgrounds, decks and landfills."

"Arsenic treated wood doesn't go away because industry decides to stop selling it," said Bogart. "Industry needs to figure out safe ways to dispose of it as well."

Whitman said the EPA has not concluded that CCA treated wood poses unreasonable risks to the public for existing CCA treated wood being used around or near their homes or from wood that remains available in stores. The agency does not believe there is any reason to remove or replace CCA treated structures, including decks or playground equipment, and is not recommending that existing structures or surrounding soils be removed or replaced.

Under today's agreement, wood treatment plants will begin immediately to convert to new alternative wood preservatives that do not contain arsenic. In the current year, manufacturers expect a decline in production of CCA products for affected residential uses up to 25 percent, with a corresponding shift to alternatives.

During 2003, the companies expect the transition away from CCA to increase, with a decline in production of CCA products for affected residential uses of up to 70 percent, and a corresponding shift to alternatives. New labeling will be required on all CCA products, specifying that no use of CCA will be allowed by the wood treating industry for the affected residential uses after December 31, 2003.

"This is a responsible action by the industry," said the EPA's Whitman. "Today's action will ensure that future exposures to arsenic are minimized in residential settings. The companies deserve credit for coming forward in a voluntary way to undergo a conversion and retooling of their plants as quickly as possible. The transition to new alternatives will provide consumers with greater choice for their building needs."

The EPA says it has been reviewing CCA for the past several months to ensure that the chemical meets current safety standards. The agency is continuing to assess the risks posed by CCA use in residential settings, particularly the potential exposure of children to CCA and arsenic in playgrounds and homes.


Arsenic from CCA treated wood can leach into groundwater, contaminating drinking water supplies (Photo courtesy EPA)
"The EPA shouldn't stop testing," said Rick Feutz, a homeowner who experienced temporary paralysis after building a raft using CCA wood. Fifteen years later, Feutz still suffers from memory loss, weakness and partial paralysis in his face.

"The EPA can't stick their heads in the sand just because the news doesn't look good for industry," added Feutz. "This wood is going to be in people's backyards for decades and they deserve to know what risk it poses for their families."

The EPA today issued a series of cautionary recommendations aimed at reducing consumer exposure to chemicals from CCA treated wood. The EPA said that food should not be placed directly on any outside surface, including treated wood, and children and others should wash their hands after playing or working outdoors.

CCA treated wood should never be burned, as toxic chemicals may be released as part of the smoke and ashes. Consumers who work with CCA treated wood are encouraged to reduce their exposure to chemicals in the wood by only sawing, sanding and machining CCA treated wood outdoors, and by wearing a dust mask, goggles and gloves when performing this type of activity.

Those working with the wood should wash all exposed areas of their bodies thoroughly with soap and water before eating, drinking or using tobacco products. Work clothes should be washed separately from other household clothing before wearing them again, the agency said.

The EPA warned against composting or mulching sawdust, scraps and other construction debris containing remnants from CCA treated wood. Pressure treated wood has been given an exemption from hazardous waste regulations, meaning it can be disposed of in municipal landfills without a permit.

Over the next two years, consumers will be provided with increasingly more non-CCA treated wood alternatives as the industry converts and retools their industrial equipment and practices, the EPA noted. The 22 month lead time will give wood treatment plants time to convert to new methods with minimal economic disruption for the industry's employees.

In the meantime, workers in wood treatment plants and nearby residents will continue to be exposed to CCA and its corresponding health risks, environmentalists warn.

More information on the EPA announcement is available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/citizens/1file.htm

Information from the wood treatment industry is available at: http://www.treatedwood.com