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Pincince Targets Treated Wood And Arsenic

Apr 17, 2003 | Camden Herald

John Pincince wants people to take health risks associated with arsenic seriously.

That's why he nominated chromated copper arsenate (CCA),the chemical commonly used in pressure treated wood for the "Dirty Dozen" award given annually by the Toxics Action Center (TAC) in Portland.

"My hope is that the companies that store this stuff will begin to cover their wood piles," Pincince said.

Pincince and representatives of two Maine environmental groups met at Camden's harbor park to recognize the award.

The "Dirty Dozen" award highlights public health and environmental threats that are not necessarily hazardous waste sites, according to Maggie Drummond, director of the TAC Maine office.

CCA treated wood is a hazard that needs to be addressed, Drummond said.

"It's one of the more visible threats that parents and residents can come into contact with," she said.

CCA is injected into the pressure treated wood, which is commonly used in decks, piers, and playgrounds. Over time, as the wood gradually deteriorates, the chemical leaks out. Arsenic can then be absorbed through the skin by running one's hand along the wood, according to environmentalists.

Amanda Sears, campaign director for the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland, explained that recent wipe tests of outdoor wood structures in seven Maine communities revealed arsenic levels of between 13 and 354 micrograms per 100 square centimeters of wood, an area roughly the size of a child's handprint. By comparison, new state standards for arsenic in drinking water limit the amount to 2 micrograms in an average glass.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded children face serious health risks from arsenic exposure on treated wood playground equipment, Sears said. Arsenic may be linked to increased risk of skin, bladder, and liver cancer, among other ailments.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken notice of this issue in recent times. Last year the EPA announced a voluntary agreement with the wood preservative manufacturers to phase-out the production of arsenic-treated wood for most residential uses by Jan. 1, 2004. However, Drummond noted that this agreement still allows wood inventories to be sold for commercial use indefinitely.

Drummond, Sears, and Pincince are urging support in two bills before the state Legislature that would be used to augment the EPA's ruling. One is an act that would require private drinking wells be tested for arsenic and other contaminants prior to the sale of a home, and would also mandate disclosure of those testing results to prospective home buyers.

The second bill, "An Act to Protect Public Health by Reducing Human Exposure to Arsenic," would require disclosure of the presence of arsenic in water or treated wood when a home is sold, and sellers would have to let buyers know if outdoor structures were made with arsenic-treated wood, as well as indicating whether they had been recoated with sealant within the past six months.

This act would also ban the sale of arsenic-treated wood; restrict disposal to lined landfill only; and, ban burning, chipping, mulching and composting of the wood.

Sears explained that there are alternatives to CCA treated wood, such as pest resistant woods like cedar and redwood, or plastic wood-like materials, which are composites made from recycled polyethylene plastic and wood.

There are also different chemicals that can be used to treat wood including ammoniacal copper quaternary, marketed as ACQ Preserve by Chemical Specialties; copper boron azole, a newer treatment marketed by Wolmanized Natural Select by Wolman; and, boron-based treatment that can be field applied to wood.

Steps can be taken to reduce arsenic exposure from existing wood structures, such as sealing the wood annually, washing your hands after contact with the wood, and covering treated picnic tables with a tablecloth.

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