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Bill To Ban Toxic Wood Preservatives Introduced in California State Senate
(from February 24, 2003)

Groundbreaking legislation to ban the use of the most toxic wood preservatives has been introduced in the state of California. On February 13, 2003, California State Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation to ban the use and production of the three heavy-duty wood preservatives, chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol (penta), and creosote. The bill, SB 202, represents the first legislative effort to remove these dangerous chemicals from everyday use. The chemicals are used to treat wood for the prevention of rot, mildew, and insect infestation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 800 million pounds of the wood preservatives are used annually, representing nearly one third of all pesticides used in the U.S. each year.

The Romeo bill prohibits all use and manufacturing after January 1, 2005 and repeals the current exemption from hazardous waste law that treated wood enjoys. After the bill goes into effect, waste containing a measurable level of any of the three substances must be disposed of in accordance with existing hazardous waste law.

Citing the carcinogencity, mutagenicity, endocrine disrupting potential and fetotoxic effects, as well as the prevalence of these chemicals in national Superfund sites, the legislation points to the manufacture and use of CCA, penta, and creosote, as creating enormous and unreasonable environmental and public health hazards. Children exposed to soil tainted with penta face a cancer risk that is 220 times greater than EPA's acceptable level. Workers that apply penta suffer extraordinarily high multiple cancer risks.

The bill also recognizes the international movement to ban and restrict these chemicals in countries around the world. Penta and its contaminants, dioxin, furans, and hexochlorobenzene are considered by the United Nations Environmental Program to be persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These contaminants are restricted under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants signed by the United States in 2001. The Commission of the European Union has moved to severely restrict creosote and curtail CCA.

Senator Romero's landmark legislation has been introduced as the public is becoming increasingly aware of the dangers posed by CCA use on treated-wood playground equipment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission ruled in early February 2003 that children's exposure to treated playground equipment can pose an increased risk of lung and bladder cancer, but postponed action. A year earlier, in February 2002, the public outcry over the use of CCA led EPA and manufactures to announce a production phase-out for residential uses by December 31, 2003. Treated wood in the marketplace can be sold off until supplies are exhausted. Despite this, the vast majority of CCA use will continue on construction lumber, utility poles and other uses.

The dangers of the three heavy-duty wood preservatives have been well-documented for years. In December 2002, Beyond Pesticides, the Communication Workers of America, Center for Environmental Health (Oakland, CA) and a poisoned family in Florida, as a part of a campaign to stop these chemical uses, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit cites EPA's failure to act to protect the public's health, cites the availability of alternative materials and practices, and asks the court to intervene. Updates of all court documents, as well as a full text of the Romero bill, can be viewed on the Beyond Pesticides website.