Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (phone), 202-543-4791 (fax)

Contact: Jay Feldman or Toni Nunes
202-543-5450, [email protected]
February 12, 2002

Victims of Wood Preservatives Want Them Fully Banned
EPA Announces Phase Out of Residential Uses of CCA-Treated Wood

While pleased that the controversial arsenic-based wood preservative, chromated copper arsenate (CCA), is being phased out, victims express concern that EPA will neither immediately nor fully stop public exposure to CCA and all the hazardous wood preservatives.

(Washington, D.C., February 12, 2002) As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces a voluntary agreement with the wood preserving industry to phase-out certain uses of the most popular arsenic-based wood preservative, chromated copper arsenate (CCA), those who have been poisoned are saying that the agency should stop compromising with the public's health and ban all uses of all hazardous wood preservatives immediately. Late last year 13 national, regional and state environmental groups petitioned EPA to ban CCA and the dioxin-laden pentachlorophenol.

While the groups welcome any action that reduces continued exposure to these chemicals, which are linked to cancer, nervous system damage and birth defects, they say that there is no justification to allow continued public exposure because alternative materials are available.

"Nothing short of a ban of all uses of the hazardous wood preservatives will protect the public from the chemical's short and long term adverse health effects," said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. "Since less toxic and non-toxic alternatives are available for all wood preservative uses, it is wrong and unnecessary to allow any use to continue," said Mr. Feldman. EPA has a history of striking compromises on pesticides. In 2000, despite headlines indicating the "banning" of two organophosphate pesticides, chlorpyrifos and diazinon, EPA's decision left on the market many uses that account for a majority of the chemicals' overall poundage, and the phase-out period leaves consumers and the public inadequately protected while stocks are being sold off or used in unsuspecting people's homes and businesses.

In addition, according to Mr. Feldman, "The continued presence of CCA and pentachlorophenol wood products in existing structures and their eventual disposal creates potential for ongoing human and environmental exposures," which are not addressed by the agreement.

It is estimated that the voluntary industry phase down of residential CCA wood affects about 5% of the highly toxic wood preservative market, according to Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP. CCA, overall, accounts for approximately 10% of the market, when including the other hazardous wood preservatives, penta and creosote. In the latest data available from the American Wood Preservatives Institute's 1995 statistical report, 1.6 billion pounds of wood preservatives are used to treat wood, 138 million pounds of CCA, 656 million pounds of penta and 825 million pounds of creosote. The vast majority of wood preserving arsenic, penta and creosote are used in a broad array of products from utility poles to railroad ties.

Wood Preservative Victims

Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP maintains a database of people who are willing to share their stories associated with the tragedy of wood preservative poisoning. The following are examples of wood preservative poisonings. Please contact Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP if you would like to contact these or other people.

Rick Feutz, Seattle WA. In the late 1980's, Rick Feutz decided to build a wooden float for his children to swim off of at their lakefront property near Seattle, WA. After a few days of sawing and hammering pressure-treated CCA wood, he came down with flu-like symptoms and even collapsed once. By the end of the week, he was numb from the neck down. For the next year, Mr. Feutz could only walk with a walker and was so disoriented in the dark that he had to crawl. Like most people, he did not realize that the wood was pumped up with a pesticide. He says if had known the wood was treated with arsenic, he would not have used it. Fifteen years later, the signs of neurological damage remain. Mr. Feutz suffers from memory loss, weakness and partial paralysis in his face. (St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2001 and Gainesville Sun, March 25, 2001.)

Laurie Walker, Salt Lake City, UT. In 1995, Ms. Walker was helping her husband build a wooden fence treated with CCA. While unloading a truck full of fence posts, the 36-year old woman got splinters in her hand, which swelled unlike anything she had ever seen. The infection became so bad that two fingers had to be amputated. Ms. Walker has filed a lawsuit, which is still pending. (St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2001 and Gainesville Sun, March 25, 2001.)

Wayne Chaulk, M.D., Newfoundland Canada. During the summer of 2001, Dr. Wayne Chaulk, a general practitioner began building a deck of pressure treated CCA wood in his backyard. On the weekend of July 1, while the deck was still under construction, Cassy, a three-month old puppy, the much-loved pet of Dr. Chaulk's five-year-old granddaughter Mykaela, arrived at Chaulk's house at about 8:30am. After chewing on a piece of CCA treated wood, Cassy was dead by 9:00am. Dr. Chaulk says if he could do it over he would use cedar, spruce, or pine - anything but wood treated with an arsenic-based wood preservative. (The Telegram (St. Johns), July 21, 2001.)

Larry Parker, Columbus, OH. Larry Parker, a carpenter, worked with CCA-treated wood for 22 years. Beginning in 1999, Mr. Parker began to experience fainting spells. He ceased his wood work until he began to feel better, about five months later. In August 2000, after resuming his carpentry, weakness and fatigue took over his body. As time progressed, Mr. Parker was subject to painful swelling, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, ulcers and cellulitis. While he continues to suffer difficulties, his wife, Anna Parker, is speaking out about the dangers of the wood that harmed her husband.

Shirley Simpson, North Little Rock, AR. As a result of the contamination caused by their neighbor, one of the largest producers of chemically-treated wood products, Koppers Industries, Inc., Shirley Simpson and the other members of her community are working to force the company clean up its act. Koppers produces chemically treated railroad ties and utility poles. Studies conducted by both EPA and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) have found elevated levels of creosote, pentachlorophenol and arsenic, one of the constituents of chromated copper arsenate (CCA), in the local ground water. All of these chemicals are linked to cancer; arsenic is a known human carcinogen. Ms. Simpson can recount many horrible stories about the emissions coming from the Koppers plant. One recent example of a poisoning incident was on a clear day in August 1999, when Ms. Simpson and a neighbor were walking through the neighborhood and were overwhelmed with fumes coming from the plant. It instantly burned their eyes, nose and throat. By the time they arrived at Ms. Simpson's house she could hardly talk. The doctor stated that from all indications it was clear that she was chemically poisoned, but could not verify the chemicals without extensive testing.

Johnny Shelton, Cullman, AL. Mr. Shelton worked in a pole treatment plant and was "waist deep in the stuff." Mr. Shelton had to go into the retort chamber to hook up cable to pull out cars of freshly treated logs. The fumes burned his lungs. He was told to wash off immediately, but was not provided with any protective clothing. His employers told him offhandedly that it might make him sterile, cause birth defects, and cancer. His son was born with birth defects and now faces losing a leg. Although he has left that wood treatment job, he now works for a cable company and regularly climbs penta-treated poles that seep the dangerous chemical.

J.D. Morris, Billings, MT. During the summer of 1997, after J.D. Morris, his wife and four children moved into their home, they noticed that the wooden deck attached to the back of their house emitted a chemical stink. Warm weather heated the deck and volatilized the chemicals in it. The Morris children began to complain about irritated, watering eyes, headaches and feelings of nausea as the fumes came in through their open windows. On closer inspection Mr. Morris determined that his deck was constructed of milled cross-arms from utility poles. Mr. Morris decided to have a sample of the wood taken from his deck and analyzed by a laboratory that tests for pesticides and other types of synthetic chemicals. The lab found high levels of phenolic compounds (over 150,000 ug/kg), components of the wood preservative creosote in the wood sample. Since then, Mr. Morris's twelve-year-old son has been suffering from almost constant headaches and regular bouts of nausea, for which he has to take daily medication. In addition, a dermatologist has recommended that Mr. Morris have a biopsy conducted on an inch wide discolored and swollen persistent sore on his hand. The Morris' cannot afford at this time to have the deck removed and disposed of (a local environmental organization estimated that it would cost approximately $80,000 to clean up the mess created by the wooden deck). Mr. Morris is pursuing a legal solution to his problem, asking that the local real estate interests take responsibility for removing the deck and cleaning up the environment. Mr. Morris notes that other houses in his area have decks that appear to be made from wood treated with creosote.

Steve Yokum, Lincoln, MI. Steve Yokom and other active members of his community have been working to get a power generating plant that burns chipped, treated wood to stop polluting the air. Most of the chipped treated wood that is burned is treated with creosote, some with pentachlorophenol. As a result of their efforts, Viking Energy stopped the wood chipping operation at the plant in early 2000 and has not received a permit to burn CCA treated wood, along with other demolition and construction waste. However, even without the chipping operation, massive amounts of toxic wood dust from the huge pile of chipped wood is blown across the area. It is not uncommon for the area around the plant to have a strong chemical smell, so strong that people riding down the road that runs along side the plant report that it can take their breath away. Since Consumers Power began burning treated wood in 1997, the residents of Lincoln have experienced an elevation in ailments linked to acute and chronic exposure to creosote and penta. People suffer from burning eyes and irritated skin. The asthma rate has increased dramatically in recent years. A large number of people in the community regularly experience cluster headaches, an incapacitating type of migraine. Mr. Yokom is concerned about other communities that are facing similar situations, including the McBain power plant in Cadillac, MI, which has received a permit to burn CCA treated wood.

BrightSpirit, Davenport, WA. As a cable TV installer for Cox Cable Company in Spokane, WA, BrightSpirit climbed 10 to 30 utility poles a day. When she began in 1982, at age 18, BrightSpirit was not familiar with the names or hazards of the chemicals that are pumped into the poles that she climbed, but she soon became very familiar with the strong chemical smell that stuck to her clothes and skin, the smell of pentachlorophenol. Penta is absorbed readily by lung, skin and stomach. Workers handling penta treated wood receive the most significant exposure first through skin contact and second through the air. BrightSpirit suffered from a consistent rash on her skin during her time as a pole climber. Skin contact with penta is known to cause both contact dermatitis and chloracne. She attributes her daughter's learning disabilities and development problems to her exposure to penta while pregnant.

Deborah Barrie, Smith Falls, Ontario, Canada. Deborah Barrie was continually exposed to arsenic since 1989 while her next-door neighbor burned CCA-treated wood. Over the past 13 years, she has suffered numerous health effects from breathing in the drifting toxic fumes. Among other infirmities, Ms. Barrie has dealt with respiratory, dermal and gastro conditions as well as cancer. She currently suffers from serious circulation damage due to arsenic poisoning, and is in danger of losing her arm and shoulder as a result.

Jimmy Sipes, U.S. Forest Service, Indiana. Jimmy Sipes, now 57, encountered CCA-treated wood in 1983 while building picnic tables for the U.S. Forest Service in Indiana. Mr. Sipes, who thought the wood was treated with salt, experienced severe vomiting. In one episode, he lost half the blood in his body. Believing that he had recovered from a rare disease, Mr. Sipes returned to work a year later, only to have the symptoms return. Source: St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2001.

O.J. Murrhee, Clay County, FL. O.J. Murrhee, former sheriff of Clay County, FL, kept two prize racehorses in an area fenced with CCA-treated wood. After chewing on the fence, both horses died of arsenic and chromium poisoning. Mr. Murrhee won a lawsuit against the agricultural supply store and the lumber company that treated the wood. Recognizing the danger that CCA-treated wood poses to animals, several zoos, including the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo in Washington, DC and Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, FL, do not use the hazardous wood. Source: Gainesville Sun, March 25, 2001.

Jeannette and Amanda Averett, Durham, NC. After constructing a deck made from CCA-treated wood for her farmhouse outside of Durham, NC, Jeannette Averett burned the remaining scrap wood and tossed the ashes in the cow pasture. Two days later, cows were staggering and falling over. Nine died from what was confirmed to be arsenic poisoning from eating the ashes. The Averetts were paid $4,000 by Lowe's for the cows, but this was not Jeanette's primary concern. As she was dealing with the burden of nine dead cows, Jeanette's two-year old daughter, Amanda had come down with serious stomach cramps. Fearing the cramps might be linked to the arsenic in the ashes that Amanda had run through barefoot, Jeanette had her tested. Blood tests confirmed elevated arsenic levels in her blood. Although the cramps went away, the Averetts still worry about the long-term cancer risk. Source: Gainesville Sun, March 25, 2001.

Timothy Skaggs, Arcata, CA. Tim Skaggs died on October 17, 1991 at the age of 41 from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Tim worked for Simpson Lumber Company at its Arcata mill starting at age 21. His initial employment as a night shift laborer included assignments to the paint line department where he handled and sawed lumber treated with Woodlife, a penta wood preservative manufactured and sold to Simpson by Champion. Mr. Skaggs' exposure to this dangerous and defective chemical during 1971 through late 1972 followed by the diagnosis of leukemia in Tim some 17 years after being exposed to this known carcinogen was consistent with the latency period for this type of chemically induced cancer. The California State Department of Health's report of that investigation documented three leukemias, and one non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the Arcata plant. Source: Dioxin in pentachlorophenol: A case study of cancer deaths in the lumber industry, 1996.

Toxie Myers, Pinole, California. Toxie Myers and his wife were exposed and poisoned with pentachlorophenol when a State of California subcontractor dumped truckloads of tons of rotting penta treated guardrail posts next door to their home. The state denied the salvaged hazardous waste was theirs until it was proved to be a method of illegally disposing of dangerous chemical waste. When Mr. Myers discovered how dangerous the dump was, he appealed to many government agencies and boards, giving them known scientific and medication information. He was met with government unresponsiveness and inaction, in what he believes had been a cover-up of a dangerous government crime. As this is written, Ms. Myers is hospitalized from major surgery for removal of her bladder and other organs because of cancer. The Myers attribute the cancer to her penta exposure.

Construction workers, Monterey, California. Construction workers developed symptoms consistent with acute arsenic poisoning while building a public fishing pier with CCA lumber. (Department of Health Services for the State of California, Evaluation of Hazards Posed by the Use of Wood Preservatives on Playground Equipment (1987). Report to the legislature.)