Arsenic-treated wood for outdoor use to be phased out
March 05, 2002 08:00
By Eric Pianin
The Washington Post
Washington-Chemical and home-improvement industry executives agreed yesterday to a two-year phaseout of an arsenic-based preservative in pressure-treated wood that's widely used for fences, decks, playground equiment and board walks in homes and on playgrounds throughout the country.
Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study to determine whether children who repeatedly come in contact with the preservative-known as chromated copper arsenate or CCA-face a heightened risk of developing cancer of the lungs, bladder or skin, as some environmental and consumer groups contend.
Home Depot, Lowes and other building supply stores and manufacturers of lumber treated with the chemical are defendants in class action suits alleging they failed to adequately inform consumers of the health risks posed by the lumber.
In announcing the agreement, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said "it will ensure that future exposures to arsenic are minimized in residential areas."
EPA and industry officials who negotiated the agreement said there's no conclusive evidence that CCA-treated wood poses unreasonable health risks to the public. Yesterday, industry officials acknowledged that mounting consumer demands for a safer alternative wood preservative that doesn't include arsenic had forced their hand.
"Basically, we did it for market reasons," said John Taylor, vice president of Osmose Inc., one of the three chemical manufacturers that agreed to discontinue production of CCA within 22 months. "We were responding to both current and anticipated consumer demand."
Under the agreement, Osmose, Arch Wood Protection Inc. and Chemical Specialties Inc. will gradually reduce its production of CCA to give the estimated 350 wood treatment plants throughout the country time to retool and begin using alternatives. The arsenic had been used because it helps prevent rot and insect damage.
The agreement applies to treated wood products used for homes and playgrounds, but won't affect production of wood used for utility poles, guard rails and other commercial applications.
Environmental groups generally praised the company's decision, but urged companies to stop selling the lumber before the end of 2003. "This product should never have been put on the market in the first place," said Richard Wiles, an Environmental Working Group senior vice president. "It represents the chemical industry at its absolute worst."
Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, said EPA should move to ban all hazardous wood preservatives, which he said have been linked to cancer, nervous system damage and birth defects.
EPA officials said they intend to move ahead with a risk assessment of CCA begun last spring, at the height of public concerns over levels of arsenic in drinking after and commercial products. However, while stressing that people should take precautions such as washing their hands after coming into contact with CCA-treated wood and never placing food directly on a deck or table surface, EPA said it doesn't believe there's any reason to remove or replace CCA-treated structures."
"Let there be no mistake, we absolutely stand by the safety of wood products treated with EPA-approved preservatives, including CCA, said Parker Brugge, executive director of the Treated Wood Council, and industry group.
The elimination of CCA-treated lumber is expected to force companies to spend millions of dollars revamping their factories. The American Wood Preservers Institute estimates that 75 billion board feet of pressure-treatd lumber is used nationwide annually, mostly in decks, play sets and fencing.