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Area Groups File Suit To Ban CCA

The Lawsuit Targets The EPA For Failing To Take Action On Pressure-Treated Wood

Dec 11, 2002 | Gainesville Sun, A Gainesville family, environmental groups and a labor union sued the federal government Tuesday to ban the use of several toxic materials in pressure-treated wood products.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the class-action lawsuit charges that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has known for decades that chromated copper arsenate, a wood preservative made with arsenic, pentachlorophenol (or penta), and creosote, is hazardous to human and environmental health, but has failed to act.

"EPA action is long overdue, as is this lawsuit," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national advocacy group committed to pesticide safety and lead petitioner in the suit.

"The agency has sufficient data to remove these chemicals from the market," Feldman said. "We have been seeking from the regulatory process to get agency action, but have been unsuccessful. Now, we are asking for court action."

In 1978, after scientific reports found evidence of cancer linked to prolonged exposure to creosote, penta and CCA, the EPA began reviewing the safety of the three preservatives, the suits says.

But more than two decades later, the chemicals remain on the market.

Named as plaintiffs in the suit are the Communications Workers of American, a group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Center for Environmental Health, and Joe and Rosanne Prager of Gainesville.

According to the lawsuit, the Pragers were exposed to arsenic wood while working on home improvement projects in the mid-1990s. While building a deck and fencing with CCA-treated wood purchased at Home Depot and Lowe's stores in Gainesville, the Pragers suffered various unexplained symptoms, including joint and muscle pains, and anemia, the suit says.

At the time, Rosanne Prager was pregnant with the couple's daughter, Sarah.

When Sarah Prager was born in 1994, she was stricken with numerous birth defects, including a cleft lip and cleft palate, and has undergone countless surgical procedures, including bone grafts and orthodontic treatment, the suit alleges. Before Sarah's birth, the family had no history of birth defects, the suit says. The suit claims that according to data compiled by the EPA in 1984, exposure to wood preservatives containing arsenic was found to result in birth defects in laboratory animals, including offspring with cleft lip and cleft palates.

Since his family's exposure to CCA wood nine years ago, Prager has maintained a Web site, www.bancca.org, to educate consumers about the potential health effects of CCA-treated wood. The site now receives more than 15,000 visitors a month, the lawsuit says.

The Pragers are not seeking financial compensation for their claims. Instead, Joe Prager said his only motivation for moving forward with his suit was to educate the public to the dangers of CCA-treated wood, and force a lumbering federal agency to change its posturing on wood treated with arsenic and dioxin.

"It's not about me, we are just the unwitting victims here," said Prager, speaking from his home Tuesday evening. "This is about three products and EPA negligence."

James Handley, an environmental lawyer representing the Communications Workers of America, said its workers face some of the greatest risks from arsenic and dioxin, particularly those working closely with treated telephone poles, which are often heavily treated with the chemicals to protect against decay.

"There have been a number of personal injury suits from people who have suffered injuries, but what we are seeking in this one is somewhat different," Handley said. "We are trying to get the EPA to go back and look at their risk assessments that they finished in 1994."

"Our case is really pointing to the fact that there now are alternatives, such as steel for telephone poles, and fiberglass," he said.

Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced the wood industry's voluntary phaseout of CCA-treated wood from all residential uses in 2004.

EPA officials did not did not return calls Tuesday evening seeking comment.

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