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Daily News Blog

22
Feb

EPA Needs to End the Legacy of Toxic Wood Preservatives Now

(Beyond Pesticides, February 22, 2022) Regulation of toxic chemicals must recognize the reality that, “The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends,” as stated by The Guardian. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the dangers of a toxic chemical—especially one persistent in the environment—it must take immediate action to prevent further contamination. So, allowing the phase-out of chemicals with long residual life can extend the poisoning and contamination for generations.

Tell EPA to immediately ban all uses of pentachlorophenol and other toxic wood preservatives. Tell Congress to ensure that EPA does its job. 

There is an ongoing crisis, widely reported, posed by the nearly ubiquitous presence of “forever chemicals”—poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and their relatives. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood. The Safer States Network finds that more than 210 bills will be considered in at least 32 states in 2022 to try to address the problem. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating containers that store pesticide products, and subsequently the products themselves.

PFAS are only the most recent persistent toxic chemicals to achieve notoriety. Ever since its inception, Beyond Pesticides has shown the need to ban highly toxic wood preservatives. According to Koppers Recovery, “43% of all new poles are treated with penta; 42% are treated with CCA; and 13% are treated with creosote.”

EPA has long known about the dangers pentachlorophenol (penta) poses to health, particularly the health of workers in penta production or wood treatment plants and opposed worldwide action to ban the chemical. In 2008, the agency determined that these occupational handlers have a 1 in 1,000 risk of developing cancer. Rather than cancel the chemical at that time to protect worker health, the agency opted to attempt additional mitigation measures, requiring further personal protective equipment, engineering controls, and changes to treatment procedures. With no real-world evidence that this would make a difference, the agency expected these changes to drop the cancer risk to workers. However, in its most recent draft risk assessment, EPA found that this drastically high cancer risk remained the same. The agency’s current action to phase-out penta over five years came only when the manufacturer in North America stopped production after being shut down in Mexico.

Similarly, EPA has known about the dangers of creosote and arsenical wood preservatives. Despite a high-profile tour of communities affected by toxic chemicals by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, the agency still fails to make connections that could help protect against the poisoning of workers, fenceline communities, and others. As Mr. Regan, in November, visited Houston, Texas, where thousands of residents are suing Union Pacific Railroad Company for contaminating their properties with highly hazardous creosote wood preservatives, EPA is in the process of reauthorizing creosote use for another 15 years with the knowledge that it is virtually impossible to produce and use without causing contamination and poisoning. When EPA proposed interim decision for creosote, it wrote, “Creosote-treated wood offers unique benefits in the preservation of railroad crossties, wooden utility poles, and round timber foundation piles for land, freshwater, and marine use.” In light of these “unique benefits,” the agency did not even consider the viability of alternatives, such as steel, composites, and fiberglass that could replace the hazardous wood preservative process with non or less toxic materials.

All of the wood preservatives are broadly highly toxic and persistent. There is no safe way to dispose of treated wood. As was seen firsthand by EPA Administrator Regan, it is evident from both history and the present day that chemical corporations target low income, BIPOC neighborhoods to site hazardous industrial processes, creating fence line communities with higher rates of disease incidence and other health problems. EPA must not only clean up contamination caused by past injustices, but also stop future injustice directed toward black and brown communities by suspending the registration of hazardous wood preservatives like creosote.

Unfortunately, when EPA takes action, it is delayed. Although after nearly a century of use, EPA is officially cancelling the highly toxic wood preservative pentachlorophenol (penta), it has done so with a 5-year phase-out period. But the first step to removing these “forever chemicals” from our environment is to quit adding them.

Tell EPA to immediately ban all uses of pentachlorophenol and other toxic wood preservatives. Tell Congress to ensure that EPA does its job. 

Letter to EPA:

Regulation of toxic chemicals must recognize the reality that “The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends,” according to The Guardian. When EPA recognizes the dangers of a toxic chemical—especially one persistent in the environment—it must take immediate action to prevent further contamination.There is a widely reported ongoing crisis posed by the nearly ubiquitous presence of “forever chemicals”—poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and their relatives. 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood, resulting in more than 210 bills that will be considered in at least 32 states in 2022 to try to address the problem.

But PFAS are only the most recent persistent toxic chemicals to achieve notoriety. Highly toxic wood preservatives pose a similar danger.

EPA has long known about the dangers pentachlorophenol (penta) poses to health, particularly the health of workers in penta production or wood treatment plants. In 2008, the agency determined that these occupational handlers have a 1 in 1,000 risk of developing cancer. Rather than cancel the chemical at that time to protect worker health, the agency opted to attempt additional mitigation measures, requiring further personal protective equipment, engineering controls, and changes to treatment procedures. With no real-world evidence that this would make a difference, the agency expected these changes to drop the cancer risk to workers. However, in its most recent draft risk assessment, EPA found that this drastically high cancer risk remained the same.

Similarly, EPA has known about the dangers of creosote and arsenical wood preservatives. Despite a high-profile tour of communities affected by toxic chemicals by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, EPA still fails to make connections that could help protect against poisoning of workers, fenceline communities, and others. As Mr. Regan, in November, visited Houston, Texas, where thousands of residents are suing Union Pacific Railroad Company for contaminating their properties with highly hazardous creosote wood preservatives, EPA is in the process of reauthorizing creosote use for another 15 years with the knowledge that it is virtually impossible to produce and use without causing contamination and poisoning. In its proposed interim decision for creosote, EPA wrote, “Creosote-treated wood offers unique benefits in the preservation of railroad crossties, wooden utility poles, and round timber foundation piles for land, freshwater, and marine use.” In light of these “unique benefits,” the agency did not even consider the viability of alternatives, such as steel, composites, and fiberglass that could replace the hazardous wood preservative process with non or less toxic materials.

All the wood preservatives are broadly highly toxic and persistent. As was seen firsthand by EPA Administrator Regan, it is evident from both history and the present day that chemical corporations target low income, BIPOC neighborhoods to site hazardous industrial processes, creating fence line communities with higher rates of disease incidence and other health problems. EPA must not only clean up contamination that caused past injustices, but also stop future injustice directed toward black and brown communities by eliminating the use of penta, creosote, and arsenical wood preservatives.

Unfortunately, when EPA takes action, it is delayed. Although after nearly a century of use, EPA is officially cancelling the highly toxic wood preservative pentachlorophenol (penta), it has done so with a 5-year phase-out period. But the first step to removing these “forever chemicals” from our environment is to quit adding them.

Please take action to eliminate use of these persistent toxic chemicals immediately.

Thank you.

Letter to U.S. Senators and Representative:

I am writing out of an urgent concern for our future, in view of increasing contamination with toxic “forever chemicals.”

Regulation of toxic chemicals must recognize the reality that, “The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends,” according to the Guardian. When EPA recognizes the dangers of a toxic chemical—especially one persistent in the environment—it must take immediate action to prevent further contamination.

Anyone who reads the news is aware of the crisis posed by the nearly ubiquitous presence of “forever chemicals”—poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and their relatives. 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood, resulting in more than 210 bills that will be considered in at least 32 states in 2022 to try to address the problem.

But PFAS are only the most recent persistent toxic chemicals to achieve notoriety. Highly toxic wood preservatives pose a similar danger.

EPA has long known about the dangers pentachlorophenol (penta) poses to health, particularly the health of workers in penta production or wood treatment plants. In 2008, the agency determined that these occupational handlers have a 1 in 1,000 risk of developing cancer. Rather than cancel the chemical at that time to protect worker health, the agency opted to attempt additional mitigation measures, requiring further personal protective equipment, engineering controls, and changes to treatment procedures. The agency expected these changes to drop the cancer risk to workers. However, in its most recent draft risk assessment, EPA found that this drastically high cancer risk remained the same.

Similarly, EPA has known about the dangers of creosote and arsenical wood preservatives. Despite a high-profile tour of communities affected by toxic chemicals by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, EPA still fails to make connections that could help protect against poisoning of workers, fenceline communities, and others. As Mr. Regan visited Houston, Texas, where thousands of residents are suing Union Pacific Railroad Company for contaminating their properties with highly hazardous creosote wood preservatives, EPA is in the process of reauthorizing creosote use for another 15 years with the knowledge that it is virtually impossible to produce and use without causing contamination and poisoning. In its proposed interim decision for creosote, EPA wrote, “Creosote-treated wood offers unique benefits in the preservation of railroad crossties, wooden utility poles, and round timber foundation piles for land, freshwater, and marine use.” In light of these “unique benefits,” the agency did not even consider the viability of alternatives, such as steel, composites, and fiberglass that could replace the hazardous wood preservative process with non or less toxic materials.

All wood preservatives are broadly highly toxic and persistent. As was seen firsthand by EPA Administrator Regan, chemical companies target low income, BIPOC neighborhoods to site hazardous industrial processes, creating fence line communities with higher rates of disease incidence and other health problems. EPA must not only clean up contamination that caused past injustices, but also stop future injustice directed toward black and brown communities by eliminating the use of penta, creosote, and arsenical wood preservatives.

Unfortunately, when EPA takes action, it is delayed. Although after nearly a century of use, EPA is officially cancelling the highly toxic wood preservative pentachlorophenol (penta), it has done so with a 5-year phase-out period. But the first step to removing these “forever chemicals” from our environment is to quit adding them.

Please ensure that EPA takes action to eliminate use of these persistent toxic chemicals immediately.

Thank you.

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