Daily News Archive

From November 19, 2001

High Levels Of Arsenic Found In Lumber From Home Depot & Lowe's

On November 8, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Healthy Building Network (HBN) released The Poisonwood Rivals, a report featuring the results of nationwide analysis of pressure treated wood from the two largest home improvement superstores. Sampling in 13 metropolitan areas found harmful levels of cancer-causing arsenic on the surface of "pressure-treated" wood purchased at Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse stores.

The groups reports that an area of arsenic-treated wood the size of a four-year-old's hand contains an average of 120 times the amount of arsenic allowed in a 6 ounce glass of water by the U.S. EPA. The highest contamination was found in a North Carolina sample at 500 times the acceptable safety level.

Arsenic sticks to children's hands when they play on treated wood, and is absorbed through the skin and ingested when they put their hands in their mouths. Based on the average arsenic level detected in lumber from 18 Home Depot and Lowe's stores, EWG estimated that one of every 500 children who regularly play on playground equipment or decks made from pressure-treated wood can be expected to develop cancer later in life as a result of this exposure.

"Home Depot and Lowe's both tout their concern for the environment, but even with alternatives readily available they continue to sell lumber full of a chemical that causes cancer," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's Research Director. "We found arsenic levels that were off the charts all over the country, which means that off the shelf this product is unsafe for children. The EPA should ban the use of arsenic as a pesticide, and Home Depot and Lowe's should stop selling arsenic-treated lumber to families."

Arsenic isn't just poisonous in the short term, it causes cancer in the long term, which is why it has come under increasing scientific scrutiny and restriction. It is the only known human carcinogen currently approved for use as a pesticide. According to the National Academy of Sciences, exposure to arsenic causes lung, bladder, and skin cancer in humans, and is suspected as a cause of kidney, prostate, and nasal passage cancer.

Manufacturers treat green wood with heavy doses of arsenic to keep out bugs and prevent rot. A 12-foot section of CCA-treated wood contains about an ounce of arsenic, or enough poison to kill 250 people.