Your Health from CCA-Treated Wood
A Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a voluntary agreement with the wood preserving industry to phase-out most residential uses of the arsenic-based wood preservative, chromated copper arsenate (CCA). As of January 1, 2004, CCA-treated wood can no longer be manufactured for decks and patios, picnic tables, playground equipment, walkways/boardwalks, landscaping timbers, or fencing. But it can still be used and sold until existing stockpiles are exhausted. CCA is highly toxic to human health and the environment. The arsenic in it is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to nervous system damage and birth defects.
• Look for a green tint on the underside of the wood piece or structure or at a protected section.
• Purchase arsenic testing kits to see if structures and surrounding soil are contaminated. Testing kits are available from Environmental Working Group and The Healthy Building Network. Contact Beyond Pesticides for further resources concerning assessment.
• Do not let children play underneath wooden decks. Also do not store toys or tools that humans will touch underneath a deck.
• Always wash hands after handling treated wood. Take special precautions if sawing or sanding treated wood such as outdoor ventilation, using a drop cloth and dust mask.
• Use a tablecloth on a pressure-treated table. Never use treated wood for countertops, cutting boards, picnic tables, beehives or for other applications where chemicals may come into contact with food.
• Seal pressure-treated wood to prevent arsenic from leaching into the environment and contacting humans.
• Oil-based stains and paints are more durable but also more toxic than water-based. Water-based paint, such as latex, is the safest sealant and should be reapplied every year (or more under heavy foot traffic). Some least-toxic products include Bioshield, Miller Paint, and AFM Safe Coat stains and paints.
• Try to avoid paints and sealants that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause headaches, nausea, and other health problems and have been implicated in indoor air problems and environmental illnesses. If you must, choose products with low VOC levels (< 200 grams/liter).
• Other ingredients to avoid in your sealant include formaldehyde, fungicide, heavy metals, preservatives and mildewcide.
• Do not treat CCA wood with acid deck wash or brighteners, which are believed to hasten the release of arsenic.
• Contact appropriate local or state agencies for disposal designations in your area. To dispose of paint or coatings properly, goto www.earth911.org or call 1-800-CLEANUP for more information.
• Never burn CCA-treated wood. This release of arsenic into the air is highly toxic.
• Do not buy or use CCA-treated wood as mulch. In shredded form it is more likely to leach into the environment and contaminate your property.
• Currently there is no standard for safely disposing of CCA-treated wood. While studies have shown that new CCA-treated wood routinely leaches enough arsenic to qualify as hazardous waste, it continues to be disposed of in unlined landfills where arsenic could leach into groundwater.
• If you can, replace CCA-treated structures with a less toxic alternative or immediately seal the wood (see sealants).
• Consider naturally pest and rot resistant wood that has been sustainably harvested, such as cedar, redwood or certain heartwood species.
• Composite lumber made with recycled plastic provides another option. Make sure the plastic is recycled and does not contain PVCs. Trex Co. (www.trex.com) and AERT Inc (www.choicedek.com) are two that manufacture these products.
• Other alternatives include recycled steel, recycled plastic marine pilings, fiberglass and concrete.
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