13 February 2002 19:49 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Manufacturers of wood-preserving chemicals insisted Wednesday that their products are safe, even though they have agreed voluntarily to phase out arsenic-based preservatives for residential treated wood products by December 2003.
The agreement, which followed weeks of discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will end the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) in most of the lumber used to build decks, picnic tables and playground equipment.
CCA is an arsenic-containing pesticide that is used in 90% of all pressure-treated lumber. Arsenic is known to cause various cancers and is especially risky for children.
During the phase out, the $4bn/year (Euro4.5bn) pressure-treated-lumber industry will reduce the amount of CCA-treated wood produced, replacing it with wood treated with more expensive preservatives that do not contain arsenic.
Industry officials stressed that their action was voluntarily, and they insist that CCA-treated wood is safe. "It's a voluntary decision based on customer interest in a new generation of preservatives," said Parker Brugge, executive director of the Treated Wood Council (TWC).
In a statement, the TWC said wood preservative manufacturers Arch Wood Protection Inc, Chemical Specialties Inc, and Osmose Inc have decided to amend their respective CCA registrations with EPA in order to transition to the manufacture of a new generation of wood preservatives. The new generation of preservatives will be available for use in non-industrial treated wood products by 31 December 2003.
"Over the past decade, the wood preservation industry has developed and refined a number of highly effective new wood preservatives," Brugge said.
To expedite the transition, he said preservative manufacturers, suppliers and pressure treaters will retool their facilities over the next two years. An estimated 350 wood-treatment plants nationwide use CCA.
"Let there be no mistake, we absolutely stand by the safety of wood products treated with EPA-approved preservatives, including CCA," Brugge said. "We also continue to support rigorous scientific research, which has consistently upheld the safety of CCA-treated wood when used as recommended."
Brugge said manufacturers will continue to produce CCA for industrial end-use applications such as highway construction, utility poles and pilings.
Final negotiations on the agreement focused on what advice EPA would give consumers who own CCA-treated structures. "We do not believe there is any reason to remove or replace existing structures, or disturb surrounding soils," said EPA assistant administrator Stephen Johnson.
EPA is conducting a study of the risks associated with industrial uses of CCA-treated wood. Officials say that research could be expanded to cover risks posed by CCA-treated lumber in residential uses if initial findings suggest that health threats in those settings warrant further evaluation.
Meanwhile, Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat-Florida) has introduced legislation that would prohibit immediately any new residential use of CCA-treated wood. Several state legislatures are expected to consider similar bills, including measures to halt the wood's use in public playgrounds.
Many treatment plants are already shifting to alternative chemicals, according to a spokesman for Chemical Specialties. He said his company began developing a substitute, alkaline copper quaternary, about seven years ago.
"The big issue is the conversion of our customers, the people who actually treat the wood," he said, noting that wood-treaters will have to change piping and other equipment to convert from CCA to any alternative.
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