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Maine Bans Sale of Arsenic-Treated Wood, Expedites Federal Phase-Out
(Beyond Pesticides, June 5, 2003) Maine became the first state to ban sales of arsenic-treated wood for residential use after legislators passed a bill entitled An Act To Protect Public Health by Reducing Human Exposure to Arsenic (H-490) June 4, 2003.This is a compromise version of a bill that was introduced in the state Senate and would have banned all arsenic-treated wood, except that labeled for use in water (LD 1309). Despite the opposing force of the lumber and wood treatment industry, Maine legislators passed the bill in an effort to close loopholes in federal regulations of arsenic-treated wood. The legislation was agreed to by the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources and is expected to be signed by the Governor.

The bill was spurred by the danger that chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated wood poses to health and the environment. Leaching of arsenic and chromium from CCA-treated wood is well documented, and can lead to human exposure to these chemicals by direct contact with the wood itself. A study, All Hands on Deck, conducted by the Environmental Working Group, examines samples wiped from CCA-treated wood surfaces, collected from an area about size of a four-year old child's hands. In one quarter of the samples, the amount of arsenic wiped off the surface was at least three times the 10 micrograms EPA drinking water limit. Humans can also be exposed by contact with soil surrounding CCA-treated structures, where chemical leaching is also documented. Children are at heightened risk of exposure considering their well-documented frequency of hand-to-mouth behavior. According to the October, 2001 EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) recommendation, children have an average of 9.5 hand-to-mouth activities per hour for an average of 1-3 hours of play activity.

In February 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached an agreement with chemical manufacturers to phase out the manufacture of CCA-treated wood for residential purposes, such as decks and patios, picnic tables, playground equipment, walkways/ boardwalks, landscaping timbers, and fencing, by December 31, 2003. (See 68 FR 17366, April 9, 2003) The Maine law will expedite the federal agreement by prohibiting the sale of all residential uses, as outlined by EPA, by April 1, 2004. Under the federal agreement, already existing residential CCA-treated wood and structures may continue to be sold and used, and could be stockpiled and sold for years to come, or even imported from overseas, according to Michael Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

Earlier, legislation was introduced that would have banned the sale of all arsenic-treated wood, except arsenic treated wood uses that are "intended solely for uses in direct continuous contact with salt water or fresh water." The new language, agreed to with the Assembly, instructs the Department of Environmental Protection to complete a market evaluation of the remaining uses of arsenic treated wood by January 1, 2004. lt also authorizes the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature in 2004 to introduce a bill to phase out the remaining uses of arsenic-treated wood.

The new law also does the following:

•by January 1, 2004, the Bureau of Health must develop an informational brochure on what home owners should know about arsenic hazards from well water and treated wood, including the need to coat treated wood with a sealant on an annual basis to reduce arsenic exposure; for private home sales, sellers must provide this information to buyers; for sales assisted by a real estate agent, voluntary measures are being taken to educate buyers, sellers and agents about arsenic hazards in water and wood

• by January 1, 2005, the Department of Environmental Protection must develop a plan to restrict the disposal of arsenic treated wood in unlined landfills and its burning as a fuel in wood-fired (“biomass”) power plants

The Senate bill, which was replaced by H-490, specified CCA-treated wood as hazardous waste, a designation that federal law has avoided. There is currently no national standard procedure for properly disposing CCA-treated wood. While this represents an out-of-pocket savings for the utility industry in the short-term, it represents a real hazard to communities with associated long-term cleanup costs. The Electrical Power Research Institute estimates that "by avoiding the hazardous waste designation, the utility industry saved $15 billion between 1989 and 1993."

While the new law was introduced to raise public awareness of the danger of treated wood, and put in place in order to restrict human exposures to toxic chemicals, the lumber industry tried its best to keep the bill from passing. Rick Baumgarten, chairman of the board of directors of the National Lumber & Building Materials Dealers Association, lobbied heavily against the bill, stating fears of the wood are overblown. "Arsenic is a buzzword," he said. "[Environmental groups] just scare the living daylights out of mommies." In actuality, the routes of exposure to arsenic from treated wood are well documented, as is the toxicity of this dangerous chemical. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen with a plethora of acute effects including eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, characteristic skin lesions, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart function, blood vessel damage, liver and/ or kidney damage, and impaired nerve function causing a "pins-and needles" feeling. See Beyond Pesticides CCA ChemWATCH fact sheet for more information about the toxicity of arsenic, chromium and copper.

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in a lawsuit against EPA to ban CCA and other wood treatment chemicals. For more information on this and other issues related to pressure treated wood including playground equipment, see Beyond Pesticides' Wood Preservative Program Page.