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Updated on January 5, 2007

EPA Will Not Approve Wood Preservative ACC for Backyard Use
(Beyond Pesticides, January 10, 2007) Environmentalists are claiming victory in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent announcement to reject an industry bid to use acid copper chromate (ACC), which contains the known carcinogen hexavalent chromium and is commonly used as a wood preservative, for residential uses. Although they are pleased with the decision, some environmentalists feel that EPA should have never placed itself in the position to consider the industry’s bid. According to the Washington Post, industry groups petitioned EPA three years ago to use ACC to treat wood sold in hardware and home and garden stores.

EPA decided to reject the bid after a scientific review concluded that the proposed residential uses of ACC would pose cancer and non-cancer risks of concern to workers during the manufacturing process and non-cancer risks to contractors and residential users. According to EPA Assistant Administrator James B. Guilford, the risks posed, “outweigh the product’s minimal benefits.” In addition to the health impacts, disposal of the ACC-treated wood carries a risk of soil and groundwater contamination.

In 2003, the wood preservative industry, working in cooperation with EPA, agreed to phase out the use of chromated copper arsenic (CCA), which was the dominant wood preservative for many decades. CCA contains two carcinogenic metals, arsenic and hexavalent chromium. The voluntary phase-out came in response to widespread concerns that children and others would be harmed by exposure to arsenic and chromium residues contained on the surfaces of decks, picnic tables, playground equipment and other out-door wooden structures.

In order to accomplish the phase-out successfully, some of the nation’s major preservative manufacturers invested tens of millions of dollars in alternatives that are now fully available and used across the U.S. The investment made by the manufacturers have been responsible for keeping hundreds of millions of pounds of arsenic and chromium from entering the workplace and consumer products annually, thereby representing one of the largest and most successful pollution prevention efforts in U.S. history (see Beyond Pesticides’ ACC background briefing paper).

In May 2006, EPA granted the Forest Products Research Laboratory (FPRL) a restricted use registration for ACC, allowing ACC to be used for certain commercial wood products but precluding it for most residential uses. Serious health risks are associated with the use of ACC. It contains approximately 1.5 times the hexavalent chromium content of CCA and. EPA’s risk assessment of ACC showed findings that the reduction rate was highly variable and difficult to predict among many other issues (see Beyond Pesticides’ ACC background briefing paper)

In July 2006, a collaboration of environmental groups including Beyond Pesticides, wrote EPA expressing their disappointment with the agency for approving FPRL’s application to sell ACC for a number of industrial and building related uses. They also requested that EPA provide them with copies of toxicological and exposure studies, risk assessments and other documents that EPA used to render its decision on ACC (See letter to Stephen Johnson). Again in December 2006, a collaboration of environmental groups including Beyond Pesticides submitted formal comments and petitioned EPA to cancel all uses of ACC (See letter to Stephen Johnson). This time the organizations wrote to express their serious concerns about EPA’s consideration to move forward with the allowance of ACC treatment of wood for residential uses. The groups urged EPA to seriously reconsider and reverse the track that they were moving on and prohibit any continued use in order to protect public health and the environment.

According to the Washington Post, the debate over whether to approve ACC touched off a spirited lobbying battle inside the Beltway. Forest Products Research Lab, paid the lobbying firm Alston & Bird LLP, which employs former republican presidential candidate Robert J. Dole, nearly half a million dollars over the past three years to push for EPA approval. Meanwhile the company's competitors, including Osmose Corp. and Chemical Specialties Inc., also hired Washington lobbyists to try to block the petition.

Dennis Morgan, president of Forest Products Research Lab, said his company had trouble learning why the EPA opposed its product and retained Mr. Dole to help. He noted that in May the EPA approved ACC for treating wood used to make railroad ties and telephone ties, and said he does not understand the distinction between industrial and residential use.

EPA officials, as well as outside experts, say there is no need to expose plant workers and consumers to the preservative when other products that are considered safe work just as well. Jason Holstine, president of the Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington, said the administration's decision "makes perfect sense," adding: "There are extremely safe and environmentally friendly alternatives," such as boric-acid-based preservatives.

TAKE ACTION: Contact EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at 202-501-1450 (fax), 202-564-4700 (voice) and Assistant Administrator Jon Guillford 202-564-0512 (fax), 202-564-2002 (voice) and urge them to cancel all registrations now in effect for ACC.