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From March 14, 2001

Pressure Treated Wood Leaks Unsafe Levels of Arsenic

Updated on March 14, 2001

The St. Petersburg Times finds arsenic leaking unsafe levels from pressure-treated lumber used to build decks, playgrounds, picnic tables and docks. The special report printed in the Times on March 11, 2001 states that the levels of arsenic leaking from the treated wood is more than ten times higher than those considered safe by the state of Florida. Florida officials added, "pressure-treated lumber is leaking arsenic out of unlined landfills, posing a threat to drinking water."

Arsenicals are just one of three major wood preservatives used to treat pressure-treated wood. The arsenicals contain mixtures of salts of metals. Copper chromated arsenic (CCA), for example, contains salts of copper, chromium, arsenic, and other contaminants, including lead.

The Times hired Thorton Laboratories of Tampa to test the soil around five wooden playgrounds around the Tampa Bay area. The results show arsenic in the soil at one playground nearly seven times greater than the level the state considers safe for neighborhoods and eleven times greater at another. This is up to three times more arsenic than the state allows in the cleanup at the Stauffer Chemical Superfund site in Tarpon Springs, reports the Times.

The Connecticut Department of Health issued the following warning back in 1998: "It is now clear that exposure from CCA-treated wood can be the major source of arsenic for children who frequently play on CCA-treated playscapes, tree houses, or decks... Arsenic is easily taken up onto hands from simple contact with the wood surface. Young children with frequent hand-to-mouth activity may swallow some of this arsenic … should be prevented from playing underneath CCA-treated structures, including backyard playscapes, to minimize exposure to soil which may be contaminated with arsenic."

Scott Ramminger, president of the American Wood Preservers Institute, told the Times that the product is "perfectly safe."
Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP's investigative reports on pressure-treated wood, Poison Poles: A Report on Their Toxic Trail and the Safer Alternatives and Pole Pollution: New Utility Pole Chemical Risks Identified by EPA While Survey Shows Widespread Contamination (available on our website), finds that the chemicals used as wood preservatives are among the most toxic pesticides known to humankind. Pressure-treated wood is not only used for decks, playgrounds, picnic tables, and docks, but also for utility polls and railroad ties. Wood preservatives used in pressure treated lumber constitute the single largest pesticide use in the U.S., accounting for nearly one billion pounds annually. Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP began to work for a more responsible federal policy on these chemicals back in the early 1980s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put them into a special review process because of the recognized hazards associated with their continued use.

There are alternatives to preservative treated wood. The Energy Cooperative in Newark, Ohio is just one example of a utility company replacing all of its wood poles with recycled steel poles. The Energy Cooperative has proven the economic feasibility of using alternative materials. The Times reported that Disney stopped using wood treated with CCA at its Animal Kingdom, due to concern for the animals.

For more information about pressure treated wood contact Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP at info@beyondpesticides.org or at 202-543-5450. Click here for a copy of the St. Petersburg Times article, "The poison in your back yard."