FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Environmental Groups and Victims Sue EPA
A lawsuit was filed today 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 charges 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.
Washington, DC, December 10, 2002 - Citing inadequate and long-delayed government action to protect public health and the environment from daily exposure to widely used and highly toxic wood preservatives, the national environmental group Beyond Pesticides, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress and the worldwide Union Network International, the Oakland, CA-based Center for Environmental Health, and a victim family from Florida filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. today. The complaint seeks to stop the continued use of the wood preservatives chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol (penta) and creosote. The groups say that EPA has overwhelming data on the wood preservatives' health and environmental risks and is aware of widely available and economically viable alternatives that compel the agency to stop use, rather than continue reviews that have gone on for over 20 years.
"EPA action to protect the public, workers and the environment from these wood preservatives is long overdue, and this lawsuit seeks to compel the agency to do its job," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based public advocacy organization and lead petitioner. President Morton Bahr of the Communications Workers of America said, "Because of the Environmental Protection Agency's failure to act, tens of thousands of our members continue to be exposed daily to dangerous chemical wood preservatives that have severe and debilitating effects on workers' long term health. This is a serious workplace issue that must be addressed." The groups cite high cancer risks from exposure to treated wood, contaminated soil and worker risks. They say that the voluntary action to remove certain uses of arsenic-treated wood, announced by the wood preservers and EPA in February, 2002, does not offer sufficient public, worker and environmental protection and only affects a small portion of the pesticide-treated wood in use.
The principal users of chemically treated wood products include utility companies (treated wood poles), construction companies (treated lumber) and the railroad owners (treated railroad ties). Wood treated with CCA is widely available through retail markets. The arsenic treated wood used to build playground equipment and decks will be available in the marketplace for years, as wood preservers agreed to stop producing wood for these uses only as of December 31, 2003. In the latest data available from the American Wood Preservatives Institute's 1995 statistical report, 1.6 billion pounds of wood preservatives are used to treat wood annually, 138 million pounds of CCA, 656 million pounds of penta and 825 million pounds of creosote. The vast majority of wood preserving arsenic, penta and creosote are used in a broad array of products from utility poles to railroad ties.
The three wood preservatives targeted by the lawsuit are linked to a wide range of health problems including cancer, birth defects, kidney and liver damage, disruption of the endocrine system and death. In fact, 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. Creosote, a mix of toxic chemicals, is a cancer-causing agent and is neurotoxic.
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. According to EPA's own data, a typical worker who paints penta onto poles in the field faces more than a 100% lifetime risk of cancer. Other categories of workers, such as utility pole installers, also face risks many times above EPA's "acceptable" level. The practice of allowing the disposal of treated wood in unlined dumps or its recycling into mulch is exacerbating contamination and risk factors, according to the lawsuit.
In its petitions to EPA, filed last year, and comments on the voluntary partial "phase out" of CCA, submitted earlier this year, Beyond Pesticides cites the availability and cost-effectiveness of numerous alternatives to wood treated with these pesticides, including: sustainably-harvested and naturally pest resistant wood species, such as cedar and redwood; recycled steel, fiberglass, or concrete for utility poles or the burial of utility lines; recycled plastic for marine pilings; composite lumber made with recycled plastic; borate-based wood preservatives; and, as a last resort, wood-preserving chemicals that do not contain arsenic, chromium, penta or creosote, such as Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ), Copper Boron Azole (CBA), and Copper-8-quinolinate.