Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (phone), 202-543-4791 (fax)

Contact: Jay Feldman or Toni Nunes
202-543-5450, [email protected]
February 26, 2002

Environmental, Health Groups Petition EPA to Ban Creosote Wood Preservatives
Groups Cite High Risk to Workers and Public, and Viable Alternatives

Washington, DC, February 26, 2002 - Citing government inaction to protect the public from exposure to toxic wood preservatives, leading environmental and public health groups petitioned the EPA today to immediately stop the continued use of creosote. The groups say that EPA has sufficient data on creosote's health and environmental risks to initiate cancellation and suspension proceedings.

Creosote is a hazardous mixture of 10,000 chemicals that is primarily used for railroad ties. Three of the classes of chemicals found in coal-tar creosote that are known to cause harmful health effects include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol, and cresols. Creosote is made up of about 75-85 percent PAHs, and several of them are known to cause cancer.

"The European Union has already banned the use of creosote, and the U.S. is way behind the curve in protecting the public and the environment," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based public advocacy organization and lead petitioner. In the petition, the groups cite cancer and other health and environmental risks from exposure to wood treated with creosote. The American Wood Preserver's Institute now estimates that approximately 124 million gallons (1.1 billion pounds) of creosote is used annually. Coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch have been found in at least 59 of the current or former sites on the EPA Superfund National Priorities List.

In 1984, EPA allowed continued use of creosote because there were no viable alternatives. Yet, today there are more durable, environmentally-friendly, and cost-effective alternatives such as recycled plastic, recycled steel, and concrete. Composite railroad ties, which are made with recycled plastic bottles and other recycled materials, are shown to outlast and outperform wooden ties. They can in turn be recycled, too.

The three heavy-duty wood preservatives used most widely include chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol (penta), and creosote. The hazards associated with the use, storage and disposal of these three products are unnecessary, given that viable alternatives are available for all uses, according to Beyond Pesticides. Two months ago, Beyond Pesticides and more than a dozen other public health and environmental groups also petitioned EPA to ban CCA and penta.

Several weeks ago, the EPA announced a voluntary phase-out of CCA by the pressure-treated wood industry. While environmental groups view this as a positive first step, they maintain that the phase-out period can and should be much shorter, and that industrial uses, existing structures, and disposal concerns are not addressed. According to a 1995 statistical report issued by the American Wood Preserver's Institute, creosote represents more than half of all the wood preservatives used (139 million lbs of CCA, 656 million lbs of penta, and 825 million lbs of creosote).

Groups joining the petition include Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), Agricultural Resources Center, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action, Farmworker Justice Fund Inc., GreenCAPE, Greenpeace U.S.A., Haverhill Environmental League, Learning Disabilities Association of America, MCS: Health & Environment, Northwest Coalition For Alternatives to Pesticides, Ohio Network for the Chemically Injured, Pesticide Action Network North America, U.S. PIRG, and Vermont PIRG.

For copies of the petition and the letter to EPA, see the wood preservatives alerts page.