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From June 30, 2005

Healthy Building Network Releases Environmental Rating of Plastic Lumber
(Beyond Pesticides, June 30, 2005)
The Healthy Building Network (HBN) released the first study to rate plastic lumber on environmental and public health characteristics yesterday. The Guide To Plastic Lumber finds huge disparities in environmental quality, including recycled content that ranges from 0 to 100%, according to a press release. Plastic lumber is commonly seen as a safer alternative to traditional wood products, which are commonly treated with highly toxic heavy-duty wood preservatives.

“The good news is that environmentally preferable products are positioned to become the plastic lumber industry standard,” said Bill Walsh, National Coordinator of HBN and report co-author.

Of the 38 products reviewed, more than one-third of them earned the top ranking of “Most Environmentally Preferable.” Nationally known brands Trex, Home Depot’s Veranda, and the Weyerhauser Choicedeck products featured at Lowe’s earned a “Less Preferable” designation for having lower recycled plastic content and for mixing plastics and wood. Three products (Synboard, Eon and Certainteed’s Boardwalk) made from unrecycled plastic were labeled “greenwash.”

Lumber, utility poles, railroad ties, and other products are often treated with the toxic preservatives chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol (penta) and creosote. These three heavy-duty wood preservatives rank with the most deadly chemicals on the market, and are linked to a wide range of health problems including cancer, birth defects, kidney and liver damage, disruption of the endocrine system and death. Two of the components of CCA, arsenic and chromium (VI), are classified as known human carcinogens. Penta, classified as a probable carcinogen and a known endocrine disruptor in its own right, is contaminated with dioxins that the National Institutes of Health has classified as known human carcinogens. EPA has calculated that children exposed to soil contaminated with penta leaching out of utility poles face a risk of cancer that is 220 times higher than the agency's acceptable level. Creosote, a mix of toxic chemicals, is also a cancer-causing agent and a neurotoxin.

By releasing the guide, HBN seeks to both assist consumers making environmentally sound choices about plastic lumber, and to positively influence the direction of the plastic lumber industry toward sustainable products. “Think of 100% recycled plastic as sustainably harvested lumber. Think of virgin PVC lumber as the equivalent of a clear cut,” said Walsh. “We have the opportunity to steer the emerging plastic lumber market. Let’s not make the same mistakes made by the natural lumber industry 100 years ago.”

TAKE ACTION: For more information on the dangers and alternatives to wood preservatives, as well as measures to take to prevent possible harm see our wood preservatives page. Take efforts to lower your exposure to treated wood. If you have children, avoid wooden playgrounds, and encourage your local school to build playgrounds made of alternative products, such as plastic and aluminum . Urge your utility company to stop the use of CCA-treated utility poles, and replace those that people come into contact with in home yards, school yards, and in other places in the community where people, especially children, come into contact with the wood. If you are worried about exposure to wood preservatives, you can test soil around treated wood structures for dangerous levels of arsenic and chromium VI (a highly toxic ingredient byproduct of CCA).