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Call for Public Comments- Tell EPA to Cancel Deadly Wood Preservatives

(Beyond Pesticides, April 18, 2008) On Wednesday 16 April, 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released for public comment its revised risk assessments for three heavy-duty toxic chemical wood preservatives: chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol (PCP), and creosote. Beyond Pesticides has maintained that the hazards associated with the use, storage and disposal of these three chemicals are unnecessary, given the availability of alternative materials. Let your voice be heard and demand that the EPA protect workers, children and communities from these toxins.Chromated arsenicals, such as (CCA), were widely used to treat decks and patios, picnic tables, playground equipment, walkways/boardwalks, landscaping timbers, and fencing and continue to be used on utility poles and wood treated for industrial purposes. The arsenic in CCA is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to nervous system damage and birth defects. Creosote, a complex mixture of many chemicals, is a restricted use wood preservative used for industrial and marine wood protection. PCP is already banned in several countries due to health or environmental risks under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which the U.S. signed in 2001, but has failed to ratify. PCP is widely used on utility poles and railroad ties.

Beyond Pesticides has called for a banning of these heavy duty wood preservatives and said that the voluntary phase-out of residential uses of these chemicals does not adequately protect public health or the environment. Even though wood for residential use may no longer be treated with these toxins, industrial uses (railroad ties, utility poles) continue to put workers and the public at risk. Occupational exposures increase the risk of cancers in workers. These chemicals also impact the environment and have been found in surface waters. In fact, the major source of contamination in surface waters and groundwater is wastewater from wood preserving facilities. Individuals living or working near wood preserving facilities are exceptionally susceptible to being exposed to surface water or groundwater, increasing their exposure and risk. These preservatives are also known to leach from previously treated wood. Children are also at risk if they put their unwashed hands in their mouths after touching soil or wood that is contaminated with these preservatives. As a result, public and environmental health continues to be compromised.

On December 10, 2002, a lawsuit, led by Beyond Pesticides, was filed in federal court by a national labor union, environmental groups and a victim family to stop the use of arsenic and dioxin-laden wood preservatives, which are used to treat lumber, utility poles and railroad ties. The litigation argued that the chemicals, known carcinogenic agents, hurt utility workers exposed to treated poles, children playing near treated structures, and the environment, and cites the availability of alternatives. A federal lawsuit [Civil Case No. 02-2419(RJL)] brought by Beyond Pesticides and others in December 2002 to force EPA to act on the highly toxic wood preservatives, PCP, creosote and CCA, was dismissed by Judge Richard Leon, U.S. District Court (Washington, DC) on March 21, 2005. Despite numerous requests by Beyond Pesticides and scientists, going back to 1997, which urged EPA to cancel the “heavy duty” wood preservatives, the judge found that, “Beyond Pesticides did not make formal requests to cancel and suspend the wood preservative pesticides registrations until late 2001 and early 2002.” Thus, the decision reads, “…EPA did not became [sic} obligated to respond to Beyond Pesticides until the formal petitions were filed….” Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, called the judge’s ruling “unsound, given that EPA has been unresponsive to scientific findings in a timely manner, and inherently unprotective of public health.”

Beyond Pesticide plans to develop a detailed response to the risk assessment. In the meantime, the organization urges the public to tell EPA that the only way to protect workers and communities from these dangerous wood preservatives is to cancel their registrations. For more information about these wood preservatives visit Beyond Pesticides’ Wood Preservative program page.

TAKE ACTION: Let the EPA know that the wood preservatives pentachlorophenol, chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and creosote pose unnecessary risks to worker health and to your community. Submit your comments no later than June 16 2008. You can submit them online at www.regulations.gov, using the following docket numbers:
CCA: Docket ID- EPA-HQ-OPP-2003-0250
Creosote: Docket ID – EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0248
PCP: Docket ID – EPA-HQ-OPP-2004-0402
If submitting by mail, send to Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) Regulatory Public Docket (7502P), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460-0001.




10 Responses to “Call for Public Comments- Tell EPA to Cancel Deadly Wood Preservatives”

  1. 1
    Dustin Says:

    It is plainly obvious that the photos in your biased attack on Pentachlorophenol health risks are staged photos. First of all children don’t go around licking utility poles, and if you are so concerned with the safety of children you should be ashamed of yourself for making that little boy lick the utility pole. Secondly, the caution children sign is clearly cut off. How am I supposed to take your claims seriously when you clearly doctor your photos? The sign could easily state “Play Area Caution Children” or something along those lines. If I’m not mistaken sugar is the number one cause of cancer so why don’t you attack sugar producers. And what’s with the pregnant girl? If you so strongly feel that leaning up against a utility pole will cause her child harm why would you make her pose against one? I used to read your articles with an open mind and thought you knew what was going on with treated material. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are just another hypocritical organization preying upon the ignorant just to make a buck. How disgraceful!

  2. 2
    John Kepner Says:

    Responding to Dustin’s comment – As the person who put this piece together (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/wood/alerts/revisedriskalert4-18-08.htm), I can tell you that we did not take the pictures. They are stock photos, pictures taken by professionals of everyday events. We chose the photos to show how common these situations occur in the real world. Personally, I remember using the telephone pole in my backyard as a “second base” for wiffle ball. You can find these photos for purchase here: http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/who/facial_expressions/fun/2606574_caution_children.php?id=2606574 and here: http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/object/4061739_happy_pregnant_teen.php?id=4061739. Thank you for commenting.

  3. 3
    Jay Feldman Says:

    Children are in contact with utility poles daily. As far as we know, the photo on our website that you are referring to is not staged, but it certainly makes the point that EPA’s assumption that children do not come into contact with utility poles is absurb –and, in fact, shows how the agency can manipulate risk assessment. See photo at [http://www.beyondpesticides.org/wood/alerts/revisedriskalert4-18-08.htm] I know a school for young children where every day the children walk down the block to the playground and pass a couple of utility poles. I have been told by the teachers that the children love to touch the poles –they’re curious and like touching things, especially when they are sticky. The teachers have to warn the children not to touch the poles. Right outside the school, a parent has been locking his bicycle and kid-carrier bike trailer to a utility pole. The woman leaning against the pole (also from a stock photo website) on our website, just like the father with the bike, probably has never given it a second thought that she shouldn’t be leaning against it. Why would she think something harmful would be so accessible in our communities.

    I found it ironic that the photo you refer to was taken with the portion of the sign that says “Caution Children” because for years we have been asking EPA to require caution signs on utility poles to warn parents, teachers, and adults to stay away from and keep children away from the poles.

    Like John, I could tell you stories from my childhood about playing around utility poles on our street. And, people call Beyond Pesticides frequently with stories about utility poles in their front or backyards that give off a strong odor. Unfortunately, that’s reality and you don’t have to stage photos to experience or see it.

    It sounds like you, too, may think that a child touching a utility pole treated with pentachlorophenol, or a pregnant woman leaning against a pole may not be a good idea. So, if you see children playing around poles, people leaning up against them, or bus stops next to them, please snap a picture and send them our way and to EPA. If we get enough pictures from around the country into EPA, maybe, just maybe, EPA will reconsider the false assumption of no “residential” contact with utility poles in its risk assessment and its statement:

    “The opportunity for residential consumer contact is limited since PCP-treated wood is not sold to the general public. Rather it is predominantly marketed for commercial installations as utility poles. Where utility poles are installed on home/school or other residential sites, child contact via the dermal or oral routes is not anticipated since play activities with or around these pole structures would not normally occur and any incidental exposure would therefore be negligible.” (EPA)

    As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress on April 29, (reported in this blog on May 1), EPA is undermining science and scientific process. The way it is handling its assessment of pentachlorophenol and the other heavy duty wood preservatives with arsenic, chromium VI and creosote is just another sad example.

    By the way, if you get on our wood preservatives webpage, you’ll see that we have documented that these antiquated chemicals are no longer needed because we have alternative pole materials, etc. We understand that change is often difficult, but we can do it and finally phase out these chemicals and put alternatives in place.

    Thanks for contacting Beyond Pesticides.

  4. 4
    Pat Says:

    One year ago, I moved to Pineville LA. A few days after I moved in I noticed a horrible smell late at night or early in the morning which was from a facility which coats poles for utility use. When I mentioned it to my friends and neighbors they told me that the facility is an institution in Pineville and people here are used to the smell and I shouldn’t try to cause trouble and if I was to do something about it and be successful, where would the people work if they lost their jobs due to shut down? Well, the smell is still horrible after living here for a year and I feel that a healthy work environment is pretty important. I just don’t know what to do and how to go about it. I think that people here should be educated because somewhere along the line, they were led to believe that creosote is harmless. Everyone here thinks that way.

  5. 5
    Virginia Johnson Says:

    EPA-HQ-OPP-2004-0402: Regarding the public comment on the use of Pentachlorophenol in the Wood Preserving Industry:

    I am a member of the Clean Air Task Force of Silver Springs (Nevada), and as such I wish to go on record as 100 % opposed to the use of Penta to treat utility poles and other lumber. I need not go into all the other apparent and legitimate reasons to oppose this chemical and its use – as others (individuals and organizations, and even agencies of government) have so appropriately done so.

    However to bring my opposition to this chemical into local perspective; Our community has a wood preserving plant in its midst (I mean in the heart of the Churchill Valley) which includes a vast rural area, in Lyon County, with residences schools, senior center, an area of businesses, and a Nevada State Park (Lake Lahontan) on our eastern edge of the community. This Lake and Recreation area brings economic benefits to town via visitors and tourism – and is located not more than a mile or so from the wood treatment plant.

    We are a community, wanting to grow and prosper; I pray we will never see the devaluation of property (homes and bare land, business) that is more than likely to become a fact in our future, with this polluting industry abdicating their responsibility. Where will we find new people to visit or live in our community, knowing there is a polluting industry – allowing their fumes, as airborne chemical emissions, to escape their facility and treating equipment?

    Now, you say — Why don’t the people take this issue to their County and to the State EPA agency, NDEP? We have. Since fall of 2006, and all through 2007 – and even now, with 6 months of 2008, behind us, citizens have written letters, made calls, sent Emails, recorded odor events. We have relayed how the CHEMICAL ODORS, have invaded our properties, our businesses, our very homes – at random times (seemingly having nothing to do with calm air, or wind, or when (any time in a 24-hr. period, sometimes daily, and sometimes several times within the same period of time) The airborne emissions (choking, eye smarting and with skin tingling) — seems to have nothing to do with when the plant personnel opening their pressure treating retorts, to pull the latest batch of poles or other timbers from the treatment chambers, to rest briefly (or spark a fire) on the drip pad.

    Yes, we have taken our concerns for the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens, and the potential for economic downturn to our officials, State and County, and we get mostly empty words. We are dealing with an agency of State, with very weak, almost nonexistent laws to deal with this situation. Any air quality regulation of any substance is confined to our major population areas, Las Vegas and Reno. The rest of us must turn to NDEP (the NV State agency) who will not or cannot conduct meaningful tests, because it seems the law says we don’t have enough residents complaining (they have a magic number that they can manipulate, to basically do nothing. Our County looks to NDEP to solve the problem by determining the source of the chemical odor – so there you go — no one is doing anything.

    This plant has had two fires, one in 2002, and the last in 2007. Evacuations were called for – yet our (we believe chemically uneducated) fire officials state there is nothing to worry about, as the fires did not directly burn the chemical storage tanks (?) We ask — what about the dioxins that surely became airborne in a multi-hour fire, which was burning the freshly treated (Penta) logs? What about the contamination to flora and fauna and the lake and beach surfaces?

    God help our residents – and especially those who work at the plant, their friends, family and other associates – including the retailer who sells his goods to the employees or the company — they think the jobs are more valuable than lives and the environment that may be damaged from an industry that just does not want to admit what everyone else knows – the stink is theirs!

    This brings me to the second (personal) reason for opposing this industry and the horrific chemicals, Pentachlorophenol (with diesel) and the CCA.

    This reason is: I am a Certified Organic Farmer, who with my husband has operated a small organic farm in this community since 1988 – before this plant ever treated its first load of poles. In the past, there was not a problem of any dire consequence – occasional whiffs of diesel, perhaps. However in the last (now going for two years – and specifically since August of 2007) our property has been the recipient of the chemical fall out. It seems we are directly in the 3-5 mile hot-zone. An observation by working outside in our beds and rows, as we farm, is that we have noticed a reduction in insects – both good and bad. From mosquitoes, to bees (honeybees and wild bees) and other beneficial pollinators and insects, are becoming scarce. We sincerely believe this is due to the airborne emissions – that go where the inversion layer dictates, and falls when there is a downdraft. This (pesticides) is a known reason for fewer pollinators – and may well be a contributing factor to the newest malady to hit the bee population, Honeybee Colony Collapse. Our farm, of course, depends on these pollinators to help us grow the crops, vegetable, and fruit crops, many of which depend on these beneficial insect helpers. I can say with certainty, that without the pollinators, we will no longer be able to earn our livelihood from our organic farm. It is also possible that if there is a bioaccumulation of pesticides – this could well cause the organic de-certification of our farm — another economic hit.

    Albert Einstein is credited with saying: “If the honeybee goes, we have four more years on Earth!”

    I could go on, about the folks – our neighbors, who have skin rashes, have had small livestock (especially baby animals) die, following those two fires, or a particularly heavy week of almost constant emissions. I could go on about people with mysterious ailments. Folks who cannot afford to go to a doctor to find out what is causing their distress. I myself am having Thyroid surgery, this month – WHY – is the Penta emission a contributing factor?

    Yet the bigger question of WHY is: WHY doesn’t any official, State or County, seem to care? Why must the US population be forced in some locations, to endure chemical exposures from Penta and CCA, for the sake of a greedy Utility industry and a wood preserving industry that refuse to look at safer product or system not needing chemicals to perform the task of bringing power to our citizens.

    I urge you to consider that all life is important. Please do not continue to allow these horrific chemical pesticides. Or at the very least – require the agencies of oversight and the wood preserving industry to become truly accountable. Most especially, I will pray that our community and our people who live and work here, will see relief – before it becomes a legal issue, an economic crisis, or before we actually start seeing more people with medical issues. You have the sensibility, the scientific proof, the political clout to do something to protect the health, welfare, and commerce of communities. PLEASE find a way to
    provide utilities with the alternatives needed to deliver power this nation. New technology will employ workers, displaced by the banning of Penta and CCA.

  6. 6
    Steve Larsen Says:

    There is no question in my mind that the arsenic and several other metals in treated wood kill workers and murder kids playing in their own backyards.
    An interesting fact is that other metals are in the wood that they don’t even list. I found this by accident while having a lab do tests. In addition to arsenic,copper,chromium you may find cadmium lead and mercury. I have.
    I wouldn’t be suprised to find levels of radioactivity. You see it looks like(not proven yet) they are involved in a haz mat recycling program. Everyone wants to dump their chemicals somewhere, and they pump them into the wood and call it good.

    I have to say this is the worst product
    ever developed to be put in contact with mankind. I am hoping to send some of those bastards to hell in a upcoming california trial Larsen V.s Home Depot.
    As for all you lying suckers who defend this product and say it is so special, How about the injured carpenters round you up and explain it to you. You are deserving.I suspect that is coming your way. You Can’t poison kids and carpenters anymore and you are paying to replace the wood in service.

    Good Day

    Steve Larsen

  7. 7
    Alice Merta Says:

    I’ve been reading about the “generous” contributions of used, chemical-laden utility poles to, among others, children’s playgrounds! Whom do you think you are kidding? First you contaminate the air that we breathe, not to mention the soil in our communities. As if you haven’t perpetrated enough harm in your sleazy business of poisoning the environment — because you’re too cheap to use safer alternatives to your current methods of wood preservation — you blatantly shirk your responsibility to safely dispose of the product once it is rendered useless. Your solution is to further cheap out, under the guise of humanitarian generousity, when what you’re really doing is dumping your poisoned garbage onto the clueless and unsuspecting. “Here’s a free gift! Woo-wooo! Now be grateful and go play.” (read, “we don’t know what else to do with it; it’s too costly, and probably illegal, to properly recycle / dispose of, so we’re dumping it on you and hoping you’ll never figure it out”)

    I live in William C. Meredith Utility Pole Treatment country (East Point, GA). For several years, I was aware of an intermittent noxious odor in the environment, yet unaware of its source. In July 2007, I phoned the EPA to complain, after becoming nauseous during an early morning walk with my dogs. I’d also noticed the dogs’ reluctance to remain outside that day, exhibiting behaviors previously limited to sensing an approaching thunderstorm. I provided information to the EPA “for the record,” and was contacted the following May with regard to a community meeting to discuss the results of a study that the EPA had conducted as a result of numerous complaints like mine.

    While that meeting was very informative and even provided some clarification as to the possible cause of some dermatological issues I’d been dealing with, it dismayed me to learn that some of my neighbors were dealing with health issues more serious and pervasive. Having done some research on wood preservatives prior to the meeting, it should not have surprised me to hear concerns over health issues. It was the number of people affected that surprised me. I’d been reading industry generated dogma, so, of course, was not prepared for the dozens of testimonials linking the noxious fumes with severe asthma, cancers, and the illnesses and deaths of pets!

    More shocking than these statements was my perceived observation that these events were soft-pedaled and even defended. With so many pollutants in the environment, we were told, blame for every ill could not be tied to any one polluter. Furthermore, and this was reiterated by local government, the company is “legally zoned” and has been in operation since the 1920’s. I can only add my voice to the many who ask about the legality of toxins that permeate the air outside of “the zone.” And, what about the chemicals that have been added to the air since the 1920’s, and the synergistic effect upon the human population? For the record, I did ask that question, and the answer seemed to center on the lack of evidence that the mix of chemicals was harmful. Okay, do you even know what else is in the air we’re breathing, and have any studies been done to show that they’re NOT harmful? What about all these people (and animals) with serious illnesses — I guess it’s not in your jurisdiction, your job description to concern yourself with that. One participant asked the scientist who carried out the study if he lived in the vicinity, to which he said, no, and, further, he would not choose to live here. I guess those of us who live here really screwed up in choosing to do so, and are, therefore, screwed.

    With regard to the issue of zoning, does compliance with zoning justify poisoning the population outside the zone? Okay, the winds that cause your chemicals to drift into residential zones aren’t under your control. They’re not under mine, either, or I would force the emissions to remain in the air over your zone. If you think that’s a ridiculous statement, take a look at your own. And the powers that be, those who govern us locally (and on up), ought to be indicted on their negligence and their apparent unwillingness to make waves. The zoning precedent doesn’t hold up if the emissions are killing people. Hey, DDT used to be legal, and so did heroin and cocaine, for that matter.

    Zones are not carved in stone. In the not-too-distant past, lands designated as Indian reservations were summarily reclaimed by government when those lands were deemed to be in the path of railroads yet to be built. They didn’t have to suffer for lack of foresight; they just went ahead and took back that land. Government and big business have all but run out of “excuses,” as far as I’m concerned. Since that first sickening encounter with poisons that left their designated zone, I’ve faced some devastating events, and, really, you are not excused. If worse comes to worse, I’m not going down alone — you bastards had your chance, I didn’t — so you’ll go down with me.

  8. 8
    Kathleen Mundell Says:

    We have a new utility pole in our yard. Even since it was put in I keep getting a smell that is similar to insecticide or a paint, turpintine, varnish smell. It comes and goes. Sometimes it is very strong and other times you don’t smell it at all. I am concerned even though the power company says there is nothing to worry about. If it is from the pole it will discipate over the winter. My concern it carcinogens from the smell.

  9. 9
    JUDY LOPEZ Says:


  10. 10
    Sal Says:

    I’m so glad to read Steve Larsen’s informative comment on the hazmat program. It supports my suspicion that in St. Louis, MO they have been dumping some noxious chemicals into the “black top” used on all of our parking lots. The smell causes nausea and asthma attacks. It has been several years since this started and it is still going on. Not only are the 3 year old re-black topped lots still off gassing but the newly black topped lots smell the same and cause the same symptoms. I can hardly believe people allow this to happen and the other parents I talk to don;t seem to care. They just say, yeah that’s too bad. Same with the playgrounds made out of recycled tires that smell awful, they just don’t care. What a nightmare.

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