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New York Becomes the First State To Pass a Creosote Ban
(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2004)
New York State has become the first state in the nation to pass legislation that bans production and major uses of the wood preservative creosote, known for its highly toxic effects to human health and the environment. The bill, which bans all creosote-treated pilings, lumber and timber, fence posts, and other wood products, but allows the continued use and maintenance of treated utility poles and railroad ties, has been passed by the Senate and Assembly and is expected to be signed into law by Governor George Pataki.

The proposed legislation, bill S04975/A05930, bans the production, use, and sale of creosote treated wood in New York after January 1, 2006. The bill would prevent the burning of any creosote treated wood. It would also limit the disposal of creosote to landfills that have been lined to prevent ground-water contamination. It allows creosote treated wood that is already in use to remain in use. Two exemptions have been made for railways and electrical companies; therefore, this law would not apply to creosote used in railroad tracks and utility poles. In Europe a similar law, which was passed in 2001 and enforced in 2003, bans the domestic use of creosote but not industrial use.

In New York, Senator Carl Marcellino and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky sponsored the bill and cited the benefits to human health and the environment that would result from its implementation. The Dockbuilders Local 1456, a local division of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, initiated the bill. The group aims to protect the health of workers exposed to creosote and has commissioned a study on the health effects of the preservative. The Creosote Council, representing creosote producers and treaters, has lobbied heavily against the bill, claiming that it, “would impose an unnecessary economic burden on the state if the bills become law.”

Jim Gauntt, Executive Director of the Railway Tie Association stated that, while the bill does not affect railways itself, it “…will likely impact all producers and users of creosote-treated wood products,” and “…there likely will be a continuing legislative domino effect in other states," according to ProgressiveRailroading.com.

Creosote is widely used as a preservative to protect wood from pests and weather damage. It is applied to railroad ties, utility poles, pilings, lumber and timber, fence posts, and other wood products. Creosote is a complex mixture of over 300 chemicals that can contaminate soil and groundwater and appear to accumulate in the bodies of humans and animals. The EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) list creosote as a probable human carcinogen. Both short and long-term exposure to creosote results in damage to the skin, eyes, nervous system, kidneys, and lungs.

The EPA is currently reviewing creosote for reregistration. The preliminary risk assessment for creosote was released in December of 2003, and a final decision is scheduled for the end of 2004. The process of reregistration for the heavy-duty wood preservatives began in the mid-1990s and was due to be completed in 1998, however EPA has repeatedly delayed the decisions. On December 10, 2002, Beyond Pesticides filed a lawsuit against the EPA for its failure to cancel three toxic wood preservatives (pentachlorophenol, chromated copper arsenate, and creosote) and for “unreasonable delay” in the review of these chemicals. While the court threw out most of the case, the judge recognized the right to sue for “unreasonable delay” and Beyond Pesticides is proceeding with this case.

TAKE ACTION: For more information on wood preservatives and the current lawsuit see Beyond Pesticides' Issue Page. Specific information on creosote is available in the Naples Daily News Series.