July/August  2002

Not Fit for a Wood Chuck
    Building Industry Agrees to Voluntarily Remove CCA-Treated Lumber

On February 12, 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a voluntary decision between it and chemical companies to move away from consumer use of pressure-treated lumber that contains arsenic to new alternative wood preservatives. This transition affects virtually all residential uses of wood treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), including fencing, decking and playground equipment. 

By January 1, 2004, the EPA will prohibit CCA products for all residential uses. This decision will facilitate the voluntary transition to new alternative wood preservatives that do not contain arsenic.

The Controversy
Why is the use of CCA pre-treated lumber so controversial? There have been arguments on both sides of this issue. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Healthy Building Network have both been proponents of the ban of CCA pre-treated lumber.

“Arsenic sticks to children’s hands when they play on treated wood, and is absorbed through the skin and ingested when they put their hands in their mouths,” stated a release by the EWG. “Arsenic isn’t just poisonous in the short term; it causes cancer in the long term, which is why it has come under increasing scientific scrutiny and restriction. It is the only known human carcinogen currently approved for use as a pesticide.”

Keeping children from coming into contact with CCA pre-treated lumber isn’t the only argument for removing the product. Proponents of the ban say that the chemicals in CCA pre-treated lumber will gradually “leach out and find their way into the soil and water supply,” said an article published in The Washington Post on February 7, 2002.

The Other Side
“Though CCA-treated products have generated a well-documented history of environmental concern and study through the years, the facts remained the same: the benefits of using wood treated with CCA far outweighed any perceived risks associated with its use. The EPA came to the same conclusion during the mid-1980s when its own evaluation resulted in a directive that the industry enact a ‘voluntary’ campaign to distribute EPA-endorsed consumer information sheets explaining proper handling and use of treated wood. Distribution of the sheets fell far short of expectations, fueling renewed demands for better consumer information,” stated a release by the Kenner, La.-based Southern Pine Council (SPC), a joint promotional body coordinated and supported by producing members of the Southern Forest Products Association and the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association.

New Alternatives
What will the industry do now without CCA pre-treated lumber? 

According to the SPC, there is a new generation of waterborne preservatives coming to the forefront, featuring many of the same benefits builders and consumers came to expect when using CCA-treated wood.

“The new preservatives use new names like alkaline copper quat (ACQ) and copper baron azole (CBA), but look and perform virtually the same as CCA products, and still weather to a neutral gray color… [but] like CCA-treated wood, it’s also important to remember not to burn any type of wood treated with a preservative,” said the SPC.

The SPC says these new preservatives aren’t really anything new. For instance, ACQ and CBA have been used for nearly ten years overseas, but have been available more recently in limited quantities in the United States.

“Treaters are now gearing up to process Southern Pine lumber and timbers using the new preservatives; over the next year or two, capacities will gradually increase. The new chemicals are more costly to use, so treated wood in general will become a bit more expensive. The costs of the new treated products should subside as production capacity increases,” said SPC.

Mac Hines, sales manager of Edward Hines Lumber Co. of Buffalo Grove, Ill., said that the company’s supplier from whom it had been buying pre-treated lumber came to his company in November of last year and said that it was thinking about changing its plant from CCA to copper azole. 

The supplier told Hines Lumber that the change was inevitable because CCA was going to be out of the residential market, and it also addressed the EPA issues.

Hines said he liked the idea of being the first person on the block with this arsenic-free product, even though it cost the company about 10 percent more.

The product, Wolmanized® Natural Select™ wood, has increased Hines Lumber’s sales, has solidified relationships with key vendors and has improved its company image, said Hines.

“It’s a good story of being a good corporate citizen paying off. Our decking sales are up 12.5 percent,” said Hines.

Not only will there be new preservatives to make pre-treated lumber, but there are also many product alternatives to using pressure-treated wood. Many decking, fencing and playground products are available that are made out of vinyl or plastic.

One such company that manufactures plastic lumber for the building materials industry is U.S. Plastics Lumber (USPL) Corp. of Boca Raton, Fla.

“We believe this phase out of CCA pressure-treated lumber provides an enormous opportunity for USPL. Our recycled plastic lumber products are a safe alternative to pressure-treated lumber because they contain no harmful chemicals such as CCA, and carry warranties of ten to 50 years depending on the product. Recycled plastic lumber is naturally resistant to insects and rotting,” said Mark S. Alsentzer, chief executive officer of USPL Corp.

But choices are available beyond alternative preservatives and alternative products. Redwood and cedar are naturally pest-resistant materials; however, they can be quite costly.

The Irony
The irony of this debate is that according to the EPA, it “has not concluded that there is unreasonable risk to the public from [CCA pressure-treated wood products],” but the agency “[does believe] that any reduction in exposure to arsenic is desirable.”

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of CCA-treated lumber. According to the SPC, it is also important to note that the EPA’s announcement removes the use of CCA from residential and consumer applications: the backyard decks, playsets and other backyard structures that had been CCA’s primary market. Commercial and industrial uses for CCA—treated poles and piling, marine structures in contact with saltwater and similar applications—will still be permitted. 

Alternative Products Available
Consumers have a variety of alternative products from which to choose. Here are some of the products you may want to start carrying:

Wolmanized® Natural Select™ Wood by Arch Wood Products of Smyrna, Ga.:

Weyerhaeuser ChoiceDek® by Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. of Springdale, Ark.:

Nexwood™ by Nexwood Industries Ltd. of Brampton, Ontario:

Polywood Plastic Lumber by Polywood Inc. of Edison, N.J.:

Trex® by Trex Company of Winchester, Va.:

Carefree Xteriors® Decking Systems by U.S. Plastic Lumber of Boca Raton, Fla.:

CEDARONE™ by Weyerhaeuser Company of Federal Way, Wash.:

Sheerline® PVC by L.Bl Plastics of Mooresville, N.C.:

What to Do with Existing Lumber?
The EPA does not recommend removing a CCA pressure-treated structure or the existing soil around the structure. However, the agency says there are some precautionary measures to take to reduce exposure to CCA:

• Treated wood should never be burned in open fires, stoves, fireplaces or residential boilers.

• Always wash hands thoroughly after contact with any wood, especially prior to eating or drinking.

• Food should not come into direct contact with any treated wood.

• Always follow precautions outlined in the EPA’s consumer safety information sheet before working with CCA-treated wood.

• Apply a coating to pressure-treated wood on a regular basis. Some studies suggest that this can reduce the amount of CCA that leaches from treated wood.

Samantha Carpenter is the editor of SHELTER.


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