Wood Preservatives

Beyond Pesticides has focused on the heavy-duty wood preservatives, namely the inorganic arsenicals (such as chromated copper arsenate, or CCA), pentachlorophenol (penta) and creosote, since the early 1980s. The heavy-duty wood preservatives rank with the most deadly chemicals on the market. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified all of the chemicals, as well as their contaminants, as known or probable carcinogens. It remains the policy of Beyond Pesticides to work towards a complete ban on the use of these extremely toxic and obsolete chemicals through watchdogging EPA, working with legislators, and providing technical assistance to grassroots.

EPA is currently working through the reregistration process with the heavy-duty wood preservatives. That process began in the mid-1990s. EPA is on record stating that Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) documents (the culmination of reregistration) would be complete in 1998. The agency currently claims that the REDs will be available in 2003. EPA released it's revised risk assessment of these chemicals in April 2008.

In 1978 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a Rebuttable Presumption Against Reregistration, now called Special Review, a process evaluating the risks and benefits of the heavy-duty wood preservatives. Only chemicals that trigger serious health and environmental concerns are placed in this expedited Special Review and EPA set a four-year timeline. EPA initiated the risk assessment based on the following health effects:

  • Inorganic arsenicals - oncogenicity (causes cancerous tumors), mutagenicity (causes genetic damage), fetotoxicity (kills developing babies) and other reproductive effects
  • Pentachlorophenol (or its contaminants dioxins, furans and hexachlorobenzene) - oncogenicity, teratogenicity (causes birth defects) and fetotoxicity
  • Creosote - oncogenicity and mutagenicity

The process was not complete until 1986, four years behind schedule. The outcome was far from satisfactory from a human and environmental health perspective. EPA allowed the continued use of all of the heavy-duty wood preservatives.

Since the mid-1980s, Beyond Pesticides has worked with elected officials and regular citizens, as well as the press to educate people about the extreme risks associated with exposure to these pesticides. We have published numerous articles in our quarterly newsletter Pesticides and You, as well as timely action alerts, providing updates on EPA's actions, current legislative efforts and information about the toxicology of the wood preservatives. Collecting and disseminating stories about victims of exposure to wood preservatives specifically and pesticides generally is one of our more important projects. Please share your own story with us by filling out a Pesticide Incident Report (PIR) form.

Beyond Pesticides has published two reports addressing the risks of exposure to these chemicals. Our first report, Poison Poles, published in 1997 examines the toxic trail left by the manufacture, use, storage and disposal of the heavy-duty wood preservatives from cradle to grave. Pole Pollution, published in 1999, focuses on EPA's draft preliminary science chapter on penta and provides the results of our survey of over 3,000 utilities across the United States and Canada. Both EPA's science chapter and our survey provide shocking numbers. For example, EPA has calculated that children face a 220 times increase in the risk of cancer from exposure to soil contaminated with penta leaching out of the utility poles. Those utility poles are ubiquitous across our country. We also found that over 68 percent of utilities are in the habit of given away discarded utility poles that continue to leach toxic chemicals into the environment to the public.