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Home Depot Faces Class-Action Suit

Jul 21, 2003 | Austin Business Journal

Two Austinites have brought a class-action lawsuit against Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc., claiming it sold potentially toxic wood that's used to build decks and playgrounds.

The suit, filed July 1 in Travis County District Court by Thad Martin and Susan Wilson, could open the door for thousands of Texans to benefit from the effort. It also could potentially cost Home Depot hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to resolve.

The suit filed in Austin claims Home Depot breached warranties and violated the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act by selling what's commonly known as CCA-treated wood. CCA, or chromated copper arsenate, is a wood preservative that's a mixture, in part, of arsenic acid, hexavalent chromium and copper oxide.

The suit was filed in Austin because Martin and Wilson bought the wood from a Home Depot here.

"If the case is resolved and there is something available to the people who bought the wood in Texas, there will be a notice published in the appropriate places telling them how they can proceed," Snyder says.

If the suit is successful, Snyder adds, Home Depot could be forced to refund or replace all of the CCA-treated wood it has sold in Texas since 1986.

The Austin suit claims Home Depot breached warranties and violated the deceptive trade practices act by representing that CCA wood is proper, safe and suitable for use in decks and playground equipment.

Citing a company policy, Home Depot spokeswoman Goldie Taylor declines to comment on the suit. But she says Home Depot is following "to the letter" the latest federal mandates for CCA wood.

Federal health officials recently acknowledged CCA-treated wood is potentially harmful and should be banned. In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that wood manufacturers and sellers such as Home Depot stop using and selling CCA-treated wood for most residential purposes by the end of this year.

EPA spokesman David Deegan says CCA is being phased out primarily to protect children's health and the environment, although consumers may continue to buy and use the treated CCA wood until the end of the year or for as long as it is available.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says the arsenic and chromium that can seep out of CCA-treated wood pose serious health complications to various organs, including the heart, lungs, skin, and liver.

As the evidence against CCA has surfaced, most playground manufacturers have stopped using CCA-treated wood in the past year, says Stephen Pinegar, manager of Rainbow Play Systems Inc. in Austin. Rainbow stopped using CCA wood about a decade ago, he says.

"It had a tendency to make the employees in the shop sick," Pinegar says.

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