Poles - A Report About Their Toxic Trail and Safer Alternatives
The Toxic Trail
Chemical Production: The Production of Chemicals
Used to Treat Wood Poles
and naphthalene are all organic chemicals derived from oil and coal.
The construction of oil wells and mining of coal also produces serious
environmental damage. Drilled oil must be transported to a facility
where it is refined. Shipment by oil tanker has resulted in some of
the largest environmental disasters in recent history. Even more oil
travels through mostly unregulated pipelines, leaking about 13 million
gallons per year. Creosote is distilled from coal tars, which are
by-products of the carbonization of coal to produce coke or natural
The most commonly
used metal-based wood preservative is copper chromated arsenate (CCA),
made up of copper, chromium and arsenic compounds. Copper mining and
smelting are among the most environmentally destructive activities
in several western states. Copper metal is the source of copper in
most commercial copper compounds. Arsenic is present in ores containing
other metals, including copper. Chromium compounds are derived from
sodium chromate and dichromate, which are produced by roasting chromite
ore with soda ash. Chromite ore has not been mined in the U.S. since
1961. In 1988, the main sources of chromite ore imports were South
Africa, Zimbabwe, and Turkey.
from manufacturing sites
Air tests at and
around sites where chromium compounds are manufactured record high
levels of the extremely toxic chromium (VI). Vulcan Chemical Company
in Wichita, KS, the sole remaining U.S. producer of pentachlorophenol,
releases millions of pounds of toxic chemicals every year into the
Kansas environment, in addition to thousands of pounds of chlorine
and chlorine-containing compounds that are released accidentally.
In 1994, Vulcan reported releases of four million pounds of toxic
chemicals and accidently released 18,000 pounds of chlorine and chlorine-containing
compounds. These chemicals are also stored at manufacturing and wood
treatment facilities, often in large quantities. In 1994, Vulcan reported
storing nine toxic chemicals in quantities of one to ten million pounds.
Seventeen more different toxic chemicals were stored in quantities
exceeding 10,000 pounds each.
March 1980, a 32-year old Mississippi man died soon after going
to work at a penta plant near Jackson. An autopsy showed that
he had high levels of penta in his liver, kidneys and lungs
and had blood levels of 16 parts per million --or hundreds of
times more than normal. The probable cause of death, according
to the autopsy report: 'intoxication by pentachlorophenol.'"
The Kansas City Star, June 1984.
Fires and explosions
at pesticide storage sites are common. On April 6, 1991, a Royster
Company warehouse in St. Louis, MO burned down. There were over
50,000 pounds of more than 60 different pesticides in the warehouse.
The fire's toxic fumes caused at least $1.4 million of property
damage. Cleanup costs were estimated at $500,000.
sampled from streams affected by runoff from Vulcan show residues
of pentachloroanisole (a carcinogenic metabolite of penta) and hexachlorobenzene
(a carcinogenic contaminant of penta). Levels of hexachlorobenzene
are as high as 180 parts per billion, which is a concentration at
which any fish consumption would lead to exceeding the one in a
million risk level set as acceptable by EPA.
Workers on oil rigs and in coal mines are exposed to toxic chemicals
in mines and from crude oil used in the production of wood preservatives.
Workers involved in the production of coal tars that go into creosote
are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other
toxic by-products. Workers employed in the manufacturing of wood
preservatives are exposed to multiple toxic chemicals.
Vancouver-based company is abandoning plans to build Canada's
only pentachlorophenol production plant after unsuccessful attempts
in B.C. and Alberta. Arnold Hean, president of Bradbury Industrial
up, Inc., said the decision was based on federal plans to make
companies show their chemicals are not hazardous to health and
to not allow Bradbury to purchase the product label from a company
that use to produce chlorophenols in Canada."
The Vancouver Sun, January 16, 1987.
must be transported from their manufacturing facility to the site
where they are used. On average, there are five hazardous materials
accidents each day in the U.S., three during transportation.
On July 14,
1991, a rail tank car derailed in northern California, spilling
19,500 gallons of the fumigant metam sodium, commonly used to retreat
utility poles, into the Sacramento River. The chemical sterilized
45 miles of river, and made its way to Lake Shasta, which provides
drinking water for millions of people in California. It was not
until 3 weeks after the spill that EPA discovered (from files in
the agency's possession for four years) that metam sodium is highly
fetotoxic (toxic to the fetus) and teratogenic (causes birth defects).
The same stretch of rail suffered 41 accidents over a period of
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