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Daily News Blog

29
Apr

Group Calls for Banning of Toxic Wood Preservatives to Prevent Further Contamination and Poisoning

The poisoning left behind from wood treatment sites, resulting in hundreds of designated Superfund sites nationwide, is under question after EPA OIG report.

(Beyond Pesticides, April 29, 2024) The contamination and poisoning left behind from wood treatment sites, resulting in hundreds of designated Superfund clean-up sites across the country, is the subject of an action by Beyond Pesticides after the release of yet another report criticizing the federal government’s inadequate response to the public’s risk to “residual contamination in the groundwater and soil” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG). The report criticizes EPA’s weak response at the American Creosote Works Superfund site in Pensacola, FL, a problem that reflects the unending dangers of sites contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals associated with wood preservatives. The site was put on the Superfund priority list in 1983 and in 2017 it was estimated that the clean-up would cost $35.3 million. Just last year, EPA Administrator Michael Regan toured another Superfund Site contaminated with creosote and pledged the clean-up of that site, which affects a community of predominantly people of color.

Tell EPA to cancel the registration of highly toxic wood preservatives, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds, and the U.S. Congress to ensure the prevention of future site contaminations.

As long as dependency on toxic wood preservatives (used on utility poles and railroad ties) continues—pentachlorophenol (penta), copper chromated arsenate, and creosote—the contamination at treatment and disposal sites will continue, advocates say. Beyond Pesticides found the following as far back as the late 1990’s: Wood preservative treatment facilities have contributed greatly to the ranks of Superfund cleanup sites. On the National Priority List (NPL) of sites identified by EPA: (i) Arsenic has been found in at least 781 NPL sites; (ii) Penta had been found at least 314 NPL sites; (iii) Chromium has been found in at least 386 hazardous waste sites on the NPL; (iv) Copper has been found at least 210 NPL sites; and (v) Creosote has been found at least 38 of NPL sites. Based on data from the EPA’s Superfund Enterprise Management System, there are 63 current and proposed Superfund sites based on former facilities in “Lumber and wood products/wood preserving/treatment” with creosote and pentachlorophenol that fall on the National Priorities list as of 2024.

Federal action falling short on toxic chemicals in wood products has been a longstanding problem. Beyond Pesticides released a report in 1997 on the lasting effects of toxic chemicals in traditional utility poles, “Poison Poles – A Report About Their Toxic Trail and Safer Alternatives.” The problem of public exposure to creosote and toxic chemicals in wood goes beyond Superfund sites. “Using a pole distribution formula…there are well over 116 million mini-waste sites in backyards, school yards, along rivers and lakes, and up and down roadsides across the country. Out of the over 3,000 electric utilities in the U.S., over one-half of these toxic poles are put in place by the 100 largest utilities. That translates to more than one toxic pole per household.” 

After nearly a century of use, the EPA announced in 2022 that it was officially cancelling the highly toxic wood preservative pentachlorophenol (penta). As one of the most dangerous pesticides ever produced, penta poses unacceptable risks to workers and surrounding communities, which often became superfund sites once manufacturing plants closed. According to the agency, “During the registration review process, EPA found that given the emergence of viable alternatives, the risks pentachlorophenol poses to workers’ health outweigh the benefits of its use.” Health and environmental advocates are pleased with the agency’s long overdue action on penta but remain incredulous that EPA has provided a generous phase-out for the utility and wood preservative industry, allowing use to continue for up to five years. Beyond Pesticides has been working to ban pentachlorophenol, creosote, and copper chromated arsenate since its founding in 1981. (See history of Beyond Pesticides’ work and litigation.) The agency said it was requiring registrants to voluntarily cancel their penta products by February 29, 2024. EPA will then provide another three years for registrants to utilize their left-over stocks of penta, placing a hard end date on February 29, 2027. In a response to Beyond Pesticides comments, the agency does indicate it will require mandatory cancellation should current registrants not follow through voluntarily. See more details. EPA did not act on penta until the market collapsed due to the closing of the last penta manufacturing facility in Mexico in compliance with the 2001 Stockholm Convention, under which parties to the treaty agreed to phased out Persistent Organic Pollutants. The U.S. never ratified the treaty to which 186 nations are signatories.

Advocates say that the ending of continued contamination requires the phasing out of these wood preservatives and replacing them with alternatives, including less toxic materials, cement, fiberglass, and, in the case of utility poles, burying lines.

Tell EPA to cancel the registration of highly toxic wood preservatives, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds, and the U.S. Congress to ensure the prevention of future site contaminations.

Engineering solutions, such as removing soil, sludge, and sediment and installing a temporary cap over the contaminated materials, have reduced risk from contamination by pentachlorophenol (penta), dioxins, creosote, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. However, protecting human health and the environment requires ongoing institutional controls—administrative and legal measures, such as zoning, public advisories about contamination at a site, and restrictions on permitted uses of private property. OIG finds, “The institutional controls that the EPA has established at the American Creosote Works, Inc. (Pensacola Plant) Superfund site in Pensacola, Florida, related to contaminated groundwater and soil are not sufficient to prevent potential exposure to contamination.”

Superfund, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted in response to growing public awareness of the dangers of hazardous waste sites, such as Love Canal. CERCLA created the Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund (or “Superfund”) to collect taxes, cost recoveries, and fines and penalties to be used to finance emergency responses and cleanups. Ultimately, the costs should be reimbursed by responsible parties, if they can be located. Cleanup is expensive, but necessary. However, cleanup needs to be coupled with actions to prevent future contaminated sites.

It is no surprise that many Superfund sites are past or current sites of wood preservation. Since wood is a potential food source for organisms ranging from bacteria and fungi to insects and birds, and treated wood is expected to survive for years or decades when exposed to the elements, the ideal wood preservative chemical is broadly toxic and persistent. EPA must make connections between decisions that promote environmental contamination and programs that must clean up the toxic mess. Administrator Regan’s visit to Houston, Texas to tour a petroleum facility owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company followed a lawsuit filed by thousands of surrounding community members for adverse health effects allegedly caused by creosote contamination. Yet, Mr. Regan failed to see the connection between lived experiences of frontline communities impacted by creosote wood preservatives since the EPA moved forward with its decision to reauthorize creosote use for another 15 years.

Furthermore, alternatives exist—such as concrete or steel utility poles. If EPA is to prevent future sites contaminated with toxic wood preservatives, it must cease the use of these highly toxic persistent chemicals.

Tell EPA to cancel the registration of highly toxic wood preservatives, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds, and the U.S. Congress to ensure the prevention of future site contaminations.

Letter to EPA:

A recent report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Environmental Protection Agency found that due to inadequate institutional controls at the American Creosote Works Superfund site in Pensacola, FL, “the public remains at risk of exposure to residual contamination in the groundwater and soil,” pointing to the unending dangers of sites contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals. 

Engineering solutions, such as removing soil, sludge, and sediment and installing a temporary cap over the contaminated materials, have reduced the risk of contamination by dioxins, creosote, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. However, protecting human health and the environment requires ongoing institutional controls—administrative and legal measures, such as zoning, public advisories about contamination at a site, and restrictions on permitted uses of private property. OIG finds, “The institutional controls that the EPA has established at the American Creosote Works, Inc. (Pensacola Plant) Superfund site in Pensacola, Florida, related to contaminated groundwater and soil are not sufficient to prevent potential exposure to contamination.”

Superfund, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted in response to growing public awareness of the dangers of hazardous waste sites, such as Love Canal. CERCLA created the Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund (or “Superfund”) to collect taxes, cost recoveries, and fines and penalties to be used to finance emergency responses and cleanups. Ultimately, the costs should be reimbursed by responsible parties, if they can be located. Cleanup is expensive but necessary. However, cleanup needs to be coupled with actions to prevent future contaminated sites.

It is no surprise that many Superfund sites are past or current sites of wood preservation. Since wood is a potential food source for organisms ranging from bacteria and fungi to insects and birds, and treated wood is expected to survive for years or decades when exposed to the elements, the ideal wood preservative chemical is broadly toxic and persistent. EPA must make connections between decisions that promote environmental contamination and programs that must clean up the toxic mess. For example, in 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Houston, Texas to tour a petroleum facility owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company as thousands of surrounding community members sued the corporation for adverse health effects allegedly caused by creosote contamination. Yet, Administrator Regan failed to see the connection between the lived experiences of frontline communities impacted by creosote wood preservatives since the EPA moved forward with its decision to reauthorize creosote use for another 15 years.

Furthermore, alternatives exist, such as concrete or steel utility poles. I urge EPA to prevent future sites contaminated with toxic wood preservatives by ceasing the use of these highly toxic persistent chemicals, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds.

Thank you.

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators

A recent report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Environmental Protection Agency found that due to inadequate institutional controls at the American Creosote Works Superfund site in Pensacola, FL, “the public remains at risk of exposure to residual contamination in the groundwater and soil” points to the unending dangers of sites contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals. 

Engineering solutions, such as removing soil, sludge, and sediment and installing a temporary cap over the contaminated materials, have reduced the risk of contamination by dioxins, creosote, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. However, protecting human health and the environment requires ongoing institutional controls—administrative and legal measures, such as zoning, public advisories about contamination at a site, and restrictions on permitted uses of private property. OIG finds, “The institutional controls that the EPA has established at the American Creosote Works Inc. (Pensacola Plant) Superfund site in Pensacola, Florida, related to contaminated groundwater and soil are not sufficient to prevent potential exposure to contamination.”

Superfund, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted in response to growing public awareness of the dangers of hazardous waste sites, such as Love Canal. CERCLA created the Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund (or “Superfund”) to collect taxes, cost recoveries, and fines and penalties to be used to finance emergency responses and cleanups. Ultimately, the costs should be reimbursed by responsible parties, if they can be located. Cleanup is expensive, but necessary. However, cleanup needs to be coupled with actions to prevent future contaminated sites.

It is no surprise that many Superfund sites are past or current sites of wood preservation. Since wood is a potential food source for organisms ranging from bacteria and fungi to insects and birds, and treated wood is expected to survive for years or decades when exposed to the elements, the ideal wood preservative chemical is broadly toxic and persistent. EPA must make connections between decisions that promote environmental contamination and programs that must clean up the toxic mess. For example, in 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Houston, Texas to tour a petroleum facility owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company as thousands of surrounding community members sued the corporation for adverse health effects allegedly caused by creosote contamination. Yet, Administrator Regan failed to see the connection between the lived experiences of frontline communities impacted by creosote wood preservatives since EPA moved forward with its decision to reauthorize creosote use for another 15 years.

Furthermore, alternatives exist—such as concrete or steel utility poles. I urge you to ensure that EPA prevents future sites contaminated with toxic wood preservatives by ceasing the use of these highly toxic persistent chemicals, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds.

Thank you.

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