Poles: A Report About Their Toxic Trail and Safer Alternatives
Release and Fact Sheet
UNTIL February 4, 1997
Contact: Jay Feldman
Release "Poison Poles" Report and Launch Campaign,Cite Widespread Contamination
and Poisoning from Use of Wood Preservatives on Utility Poles and Availability
In a report released
today in Washington and over a dozen states, environmentalists say wood
preservatives used to treat millions of utility poles across the country
pose one of the most serious public health and environmental threats, as
a result of the pole treatment process, storage, use and disposal. The report,
called Poison Poles: Their Toxic Trail and the Safer Alternatives, cites
the chemicals used on utility poles as some of the most toxic chemicals
known to humankind --containing contaminants such as dioxin, furans and
hexachlorobenzene-- and criticizes the Environmental Protection Agency and
the nation's utility companies for not promoting and using alternative materials
such as steel and concrete. The groups note that wood preservatives constitute
the single largest pesticide use in the United States and launched a campaign
to raise public awareness leading to the adoption of alternatives.
Washington, DC, February
today released a report documenting widespread contamination and poisoning
from the single largest pesticide group, wood preservatives, and launched
a campaign to stop their use. The chemicals, used widely to extend the
life of wood products including over 100 million utility poles, contain
some of the most hazardous toxic contaminants on the market, according
to the report, entitled Poison Poles: Their Toxic Trail and the Safer
Alternatives. The chemicals include pentachlorophenol, creosote, arsenic
and chromium VI and contaminants such as dioxin, furans and hexachlorobenzene.
According to the
Environmental Protection Agency, wood preservatives account for over one-third
of all pesticide use. The report's authors say the volume could actually
be as high as 1.6 billion pounds, which would account for more than all
other pesticide uses combined. The chemicals are used to protect wood
from insects, bacteria and fungus.
The report traces
the "toxic trail" of wood preservatives, including their production, wood
treatment, installation of poles, transportation, storage, and disposal.
At every point along the toxic trail, the report documents contamination
and poisoning. The authors point to what they call a failed regulatory
process that they say does not provide adequate protection of public health
and the environment. Cited is the EPA's failure to consider the viability
of poles made from other materials, such as concrete and steel.
Jay Feldman, executive
director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides and
an author of the report says, "EPA has ignored the magnitude of the wood
preservative problem from chemical production to wood treatment and disposal,
allowing the contamination and poisoning to go on despite the availability
alternative pole materials."
The group sites at
least 795 wood preserving facilities across the country and hundreds of
Superfund hazardous waste sites that are contaminated with wood preservatives.
Lois Gibbs, executive
director of CCHW: Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, maintains,
"Wood preservatives are the culprit chemicals in contaminating hundreds
of communities across the country. There is no good reason to allow the
poisoning to continue." A representative from Citizens Against Toxic Exposure
in a Pensacola, Florida neighborhood, which EPA recently announced it
would relocate because of wood preservative contamination from a nearby
wood preserving facility, said, "EPA should move quickly to protect communities
that suffer the adverse health effects from wood preservatives, including
sickness, cancer, and reproductive problems."
The groups blame
EPA for what they call a failed regulatory process that compromises the
health and safety of people under pressure from the chemical and wood
preserving industry. They believe that utility companies should adopt
safer practices by using alternative pole materials.
The National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), a national coalition of community-based
organizations and people founded in 1981, operates a national information
clearinghouse on pesticide hazards and alternatives to their use, and
advocates for changes in policies and practices to stop and prevent pesticide
poisoning and contamination.
CCHW: Center for
Health, Environment and Justice is a sixteen year-old, non-profit, organization
founded in 1981 by Lois Marie Gibbs, leader of the campaign at Love Canal.
In 1981, the main focus of the organization (then called the Citizens
Clearinghouse For Hazardous Waste) was helping community groups suffering
from the effects of toxic dumps similar to Love Canal. Since then, the
group has expanded its programs to match the expanding environmental health
concerns of grassroots groups.
Toxic Exposure is a community group founded in 1992 to deal with the health
threat to nearby residents and former workers at a wood treating site
in Pensacola, Florida.
on Chemically Treated Wood Utility Poles
- Wood preservatives,
used to chemically treat wood utility poles, contain dangerous chemicals,
including dioxins, which harm human health and the environment. The
last remaining use of pentachlorophenol is as a wood preservative on
- There are approximately
135 million chemically treated wood utility poles in the U.S.-3% of
these poles are replaced annually.
- From the growing
of a tree to the disposal of a treated wood pole as a hazardous waste,
each step in the cradle-to-grave life of a treated wood pole creates
a toxic threat, including: 1) Forestry practices for growing trees;
2) Chemical production; 3) Chemical treatment of the wood; 4) Storage
of treated poles; 5) Installation of treated poles; 6) Retreating of
wood poles; 7) Disposal and recycling of treated poles; 8) Transportation
of chemicals and treated poles.
- Wood preservatives
account for over one- third of the 2 billion pounds of pesticides used
in the U.S. annually. Nearly 600 million cubic feet of wood poles (approx.
4 million poles) are treated with these chemicals each year.
- The three major
chemical wood preservatives are Pentachlorophenol (Penta), Creosote,
and Arsenicals (Copper Chromium Arsenate- CCA). A fourth, Copper Naphthenate,
is considered an alternative.
- Chemical treating
of wood poles is one of the last remaining uses of penta and creosote
-- 43% of all poles are treated with penta; 93% of the remaining legal
uses of penta is for pole treatment; 42% of all poles are treated with
arsenicals; and, 13% are still treated with creosote.
- The use of penta
is prohibited in 26 countries around the world, but not in the U.S.
- Wood preservatives
are ranked among the most potent cancer agents, promoters of birth defects
and reproductive problems and nervous system toxicants.
- There are at least
795 wood preserving plants in the U.S. whose operations and waste products
are not adequately regulated.
- In 1984, EPA issued
a standard to limit dioxin contamination in penta to 1 part per million
(ppm). In 1986, under pressure from the chemical industry, lead by the
sole producer of penta in the U.S., Vulcan Chemical Co., EPA agreed
to raise the dioxin levels by 4 times to 4 ppm in some cases. This issue
has not been revisited since 1986.
- In 1995, the wood
preserving industry reported $3.65 billion in annual gross sales.
- The electric utility
and wood preserving industries continuously strive to deny and avoid
the cost and potential liability of the disposal of treated poles. Treated
wood waste is considered municipal waste. The Electric Power Research
Institute (EPRI) estimated that, "by avoiding the hazardous waste designation
[of used treated wood poles], the utility industry would save $15 billion
between 1989 and 1993."
- Poles made of alternative
materials, such as steel, concrete, fiberglass or the burying of lines
are all alternatives that are currently used in the U.S.
Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003