Daily News Archive
From May 11, 2001

EPA Pledges to Speed Up Risk Assessment of CCA Wood Preservative

At a meeting on May 9, 2001, between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two state officials from Florida, Beyond Pesticides and the Environmental Working Group, EPA said that it would speed up its review process of copper chromium arsenic (CCA) wood preservative. This statement came after years of delay on the part of the Agency. As part of this new effort, EPA has pledged to complete a review of the special risks that children face from exposure to wood treated with CCA and make that document available to the public in a matter of weeks. CCA treated lumber is used to make playground equipment, decks, boardwalks, pilings and utility poles.

The main focus of the meeting was the voluntary Consumer Awareness Program (CAP), put in place by EPA in 1986, that was supposed to provide consumers with information about the risks associated with exposure to CCA treated wood. The wood treatment industry agreed to provide consumers of CCA treated wood with a Consumer Information Sheet (CIS) at the point of purchase. EPA has admitted that it has no authority to enforce a voluntary program. Beyond Pesticides asked EPA whether it was time to impose a mandatory CAP, given that the voluntary program has been an utter failure. The agency responded that it had not given up hope on the voluntary CAP.

Beyond Pesticides has been following and commenting on the progress of EPA's reassessment of the wood preservatives since the mid-1980s. At that time, EPA published a Notice of Intent to Cancel Registration for the three major wood preservatives, namely CCA, pentachlorophenol and creosote. EPA originally proposed a mandatory CAP that would have required the wood treatment industry to provide retailers, and thus consumers, with information about the hazards associated with the use of CCA treated wood and precautionary measure designed to minimize exposure. By 1986, that mandatory program had been negotiated away be industry. Instead, industry vowed to establish and maintain a voluntary CAP. Industry itself admitted to EPA that the voluntary CAP was a failure as early as 1994. In other words, neither industry nor EPA lived up to the terms of the 1986 agreement. The result, consumers have been left in the dark about the risks of CCA treated wood.

Since CCA hit the headlines in the State of Florida (see stories in the St. Petersburg Times, and the Gainesville Sun), EPA has suddenly become very interested in the failure of the voluntary CAP. The meeting on May 9th provided the invitees to list their concerns about the failed program. The 1986 agreement called for industry to provide EPA with annual reports measuring compliance with the CAP. Beyond Pesticides asked EPA if the agency had any such reports. EPA responded that due to office reorganization and the comings and goings of EPA staff, the agency was unable to put its fingers on the documents, although EPA assured attendees at that meeting that the documents did exist.

Studies show that between 10% and 20% of the arsenic that is originally pumped into the treated wood leaches out into the soil and/or becomes available on the surface of the wood and can be picked up on hands as children and adults touch the wood. For information about recent studies of arsenic leaching from wood, visit the website of the Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management. Beyond Pesticides has published two reports on wood preservatives, Poison Poles and Pole Pollution, both reports are available on the Beyond Pesticides website.