Daily News Archive
From December 21, 2001

Groups Petition EPA to Ban Hazardous Wood Preservatives

Citing government inaction to protect the nation's children from exposure to widely used and highly toxic wood preservatives, leading environmental and public health groups today petitioned EPA to immediately stop the continued use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and pentachlorophenol (penta). The groups say that EPA has sufficient data on wood preservatives' health and environmental risks and economically viable alternatives to initiate cancellation and suspension proceedings, rather than conduct further reviews.

"Comprehensive EPA action to protect children and the public from wood preservatives is long overdue," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based public advocacy organization and lead petitioner. In the petition, the groups cite high cancer risks from exposure to wood surfaces of playground equipment treated with CCA, which contains high levels of arsenic as a major component, and soil that has become contaminated. Earlier this year, the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, closed contaminated parks and took steps to curtail future use of arsenic treated wood.

There are a number of principal users of chemically treated wood products, including 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, such as Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement.

CCA and penta are linked to a large number 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. The National Institutes of Health recently classified dioxin as a known human carcinogen.

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. Research faculty at the University of Miami and the University of Florida have found elevated levels of arsenic in the soil around wooden decks and boardwalks in Miami, Gainesville and Tallahassee, Florida. This research was conducted under the sponsorship/funding of the Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management. Researchers from the Department of Health Services of the State of California found that children could get enough arsenic on their hands from touching treated wood playgrounds and decks to pose a significant health risk. Workers who paint penta on to poles in the field face a 100 percent risk of cancer. The practice of allowing the disposal of treated wood in unlined dumps or its recycling in mulch is exacerbating contamination and risk factors, according to the petition.

Groups joining the petition include, Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, Agricultural Resources Center, Center of Health, Environment and Justice, Clean Water Action, Greenpeace USA, Healthy Building Network, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Vermont PIRG, and Washington Toxics Coalition.

Both the petition regarding CCA, and the petition concerning penta are available to view on our website.