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CCA-Treated Wood is a Continuing Issue for EPA
(from November 14, 2002)

With the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to cancel sale of copper chomated arsenate (CCA) treated wood for residential purposes by December 31, 2003, many people are getting rid of their own treated wood structures like play-sets and decks. EPA officials are now concerned about threats from CCA treated wood to human health and the environment, especially regarding disposal, according to a recent article in Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News. Some may decide to burn the wood, which results in extremely dangerous toxic fumes. Most people, however, have been contacting their state's authorities for advice on what to do with their wood when they take down structures. Meanwhile, state officials are looking to EPA for guidance on this issue.

Paul Liemandt, the Environmental Response and Enforcement manager for the Minnesota Agriculture Department, says, "the public is already beginning a wholesale dismantling of decks and play-sets… The wood is ending up in curbside recycling piles in large volumes… being sent to inappropriate landfills."

Because there are currently no special procedures for properly disposing of CCA-treated wood, Beyond Pesticides petitioned EPA in July 2002 to stop allowing the wood to be sent to municipal landfills. Beyond Pesticides cites EPA's failure to regulate arsenic in accordance with its own hazardous waste regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). So far, disposal as hazardous waste is an option that has been avoided. While this represents an out-of-pocket savings for the utility industry in the short-term, public health and environmental advocates say it represents a real hazard to communities, with associated long-term cleanup costs. The Electrical Power Research Institute estimates that "by avoiding the hazardous waste designation, the utility industry saved $15 billion between 1989 and 1993." To measure the toxicity of a solid waste, EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) is used. TCLP tests are conducted by measuring contaminants using an acetic acid-based leaching solution. If a sample exceeds the TCLP limits, it is considered a hazardous waste. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Florida shows that ash produced from CCA-treated wood exceeds TCLP limits for arsenic by a factor of 10 to 100, depending upon the retention levels of the wood sample, and that it exceeds the Florida Groundwater Guidance Concentrations for arsenic.

CCA-treated wood also ends up in unlined construction demolition landfills because it is assumed to be non-toxic. Or worse, it is sold as red-colored mulch for garden use, a recent fad in Florida. Shredded CCA-treated wood mulch enhances the leaching process, spreading chemicals over a wider area. Consumers are not informed of these dangers. Of the 29,000 tons of CCA-treated wood that has been imported into Florida since 1975, less than 2 percent has been disposed of thus far. As the typical lifespan of this type of pressure-treated wood is 25-40 years, and most was produced in the late 1980's, the U.S. will have a significant need for standardized, safe disposal methods.

EPA is struggling with another issue regarding CCA cancellation. The agency is now deciding whether other uses of CCA-treated wood, such as agricultural structures and fence posts, should be cancelled as well. The agency must consider the possibility that agriculturally-registered wood "could be diverted to non-agriculture purposes… The agency is really fighting with this issue, " said Bonaventure Akinlosotu, a staffer from EPA's Antimicrobials Division.

Currently, EPA is waiting for a joint study on CCA by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and EPA. After finalizing the study, the agency will implement a risk assessment of existing CCA-treated wood structures.

Find out how to protect yourself from CCA-treated wood.

Read Beyond Pesticides' petition to EPA to ban CCA-treated wood here.