Poison Poles - A Report About Their Toxic Trail and Safer Alternatives


The chemicals used as wood preservatives are the most hazardous pesticides known to humankind. At the same time wood preservatives are the largest group of pesticides out of the two billion pound of pesticides used in the United States every year, accounting for over one-third of all pesticide use. These include some of the most hazardous contaminants, such as dioxin, furans and hexachlorobenzene. The effects of these chemicals range from cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems to endocrine system disruption. 

Despite this, the wood preservatives are everywhere. They are pumped into wood utility poles --as many as 135 million-- that line our streets and backyards. Wood preserving plants dot the American landscape and have contributed to hundreds of hazardous waste sites. A Florida community will be relocated because of contamination from a wood preserving facility. Wood treatment workers and those handing the wood are at high risk. Use of the treated wood and disposal of wood wate result in human health and environmental hazards. 

Why is this report on wood preservatives and wood utility poles needed? 

One of the worst chemicals on record, pentachlorophenol, while banned for most uses, continues to be used on utility poles, with nearly half of all utility poles still being treated with these toxic material. The alternative chemicals are extremely hazardous as well. 

EPA has been negligent in its attention to wood preservatives. Its special review process has been undermined by political compromise, with each of its proposals for regulations being weakened throughout the process. While Canada has begun to look at the issue recently, EPA has it on the backburner. 

EPA has neglected to consider, as is its practice, the viability of alternatives to treated wood poles, such as steel, concrete and fiberglass. 

Hazardous waste laws have exempted or neglected to require that treated wood waste be managed as hazardous. Wood plants have gone unregulated. Preservative-treated wood is ending up in municipal landfills. 

Wood preservatives are a problem with a solution. They are also a problem with a powerful industry behind it. The American Wood Preservers Institute and the Society of American Wood Preservers, in concert with the chemical and utility industry, have keep t these products on the market and circumvented virtually all standards of safety. 

It will take an active public to push for the adoption of alternatives and a more aggressive regulatory climate to provide improved protection of public health and the environment. 

Jay Feldman
Executive Director
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides


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