Three U.S. chromated copper arsenate (CCA) wood manufacturers will phase-out certain uses of CCA-treated wood by Dec. 31, 2003, based on a voluntary agreement they made with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., on Feb. 12.
The agreement resulted from several discussions between the agency and the three manufacturers — Arch Wood Protection Inc., Smyrna, Ga.; Chemical Specialties Inc., Charlotte, N.C.; and Osmose Inc., Griffin, Ga. — and the increasing demand for arsenic-free preserved wood products. Specifically, the manufacturers agreed to stop using the chemical for residential use by the end of 2003, but will continue to use it for certain industrial applications such as pier marine pilings, highway barriers and home-roofing plywood.
Contact between these industrial applications and homeowners is limited, according to David Deegan, EPA spokesman. But until the agency finishes its CCA risk assessment, it cannot conclude that the chemical poses an unreasonable risk to the public or existing structures in their yards, he says.
While many environmentalists see the agreement as a positive step, some argue that the phase-out period should be shorter and that industrial uses, existing structures and disposal concerns were not addressed.
During the transition, consumers will be educated on the new alternatives as the wood industry converts its treatment plants and retools its equipment and practices.
The manufacturers also have agreed to begin using to a new generation of wood preservatives, “all of which have been approved for use by the EPA and are copper-based with organic co-biocides,” says Mel Pine, spokesman for the Fairfax, Va.-based Treated Wood Council. The preservatives — ACQ Preserve, NatureWood and Wolmanized Natural Select woods — are not made with arsenic, a potentially cancer-causing chemical.
The phase-out is “a gigantic pollution prevention step in terms of a much less toxic preservative, but we are still facing a massive disposal problem,” says John Schert, executive director of the Gainesville-based Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management, which has funded extensive CCA wood treatment and disposal research. “In Florida, we're facing an enormous problem … in terms of CCA coming out of the waste stream,” Schert adds.
“We think it's a good idea,” says Paul Bogart, spokesman for the Seattle-based Healthy Building Network. “There's no doubt that when you remove about 85 percent of this [CCA-treated wood] product from the shelves, it's a good thing,” he says, “but there is no sunset date for any of the other exempted uses … and there is no clear direction for consumers on what to do with existing structures.”
It is estimated that since 1970, the treated wood industry has used between 25,000 and 30,000 tons of arsenic in the treated wood that's been sold in Florida, Schert says. “How do we recover that arsenic, and what do we do with it?”
Because CCA-treated wood currently is exempt from hazardous waste disposal regulations, some of it winds up in unlined construction and demolition (C&D) debris landfills, which brings to light more potential problems — the leaking of arsenic into groundwater and the consequential costly contamination cleanup.
And, Schert adds, “Distinguishing CCA from other treated wood is difficult … Houses are built with both CCA- and non-CCA-treated wood, and it's unrealistic to think that homeowners will separate them.” Florida researchers currently are working on ways to distinguish CCA-treated wood from other wood, such as by using chemical stains and lasers, he says.
Because there are remaining uses of CCA-treated wood, the EPA will continue to evaluate the best way to address consumer and homeowner exposure, Deegan explains. New labeling will be required on all CCA products, specifying that the wood-treating industry cannot sell CCA-treated wood for residential use after the phase-out deadline. Meantime, retailers such as The Home Depot, Atlanta, have agreed to try to stop selling the wood before the Dec. 2003 deadline.
Regarding existing structures, “If they have additional concerns, [homeowners] may consider sealing play decks and other equipment,” Deegan says. “Sealing it may reduce exposure, but even with that there is conflicting data … so we have not yet made an absolute recommendation to do it.”
There also are other treated wood alternatives, including plastic lumber, made from recycled plastics such as drink bottles.
For more information about CCA-treated wood and the potential disposal problems that could occur, refer to Waste Age's August 2001 issue, page 36, or visit www.wasteage.com.