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Safer Treated Lumber Offered

Lowe's provides CCA alternative in advance of deadline

Mar 21, 2003 | Detroit News

As the deck building season gets under way, Lowe's Corp. stores in Metro Detroit are trying to get the jump on competitors by selling a new type of treated lumber, but it could cost the retailer some profit margins.

The change comes because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered lumber producers to stop treating wood for outdoor use with the preservative chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, which some studies have shown to be a carcinogen, by the end of this year. Retailers such as Lowe's and Home Depot must end their purchases of the product, also by the end of the year.

Pressure-treated wood is used in outdoor applications, such as in decks and landscaping.

Industry experts expect the new non-arsenic, or ACQ, treated lumber to cost as much as 20 percent more, but that's not the case at the Lowe's store in Southgate, which is matching Home Depot's pricing for CCA-treated lumber.

"Lowe's has worked very hard to make ACQ available in advance of the EPA deadline because our customers wanted the alternative right away," said a spokesman at the Lowe's national headquarters in Wilkesboro, N.C. He would not comment on pricing.

Home Depot will make the transition to the non-arsenic lumber in the Detroit area by November, and it's supposed to be available by special order now, according to a Home Depot spokesman at the Atlanta headquarters. He said there is still a strong demand for the old type of lumber, which has been used for residential construction since the 1930s and for playgrounds and decks since the 1970s.

The Home Depot spokesman said producers are expected to charge 15-20 percent more for non-arsenic lumber, but he didn't rule out a price war with Lowe's at the retail level.

"Once it gets in the store, obviously we will price it competitively against other retailers," he said.

John's Lumber, an independent retailer in Clinton Township, won't be changing over its lumber until later in the year.

"We're going into this year's deck season with the CCA product," said John's Lumber sales manager David Stoutenger. "We'll probably change over when we clean out our inventory in the summer."

Stoutenger expects the non-arsenic treated lumber to cost 20 percent more, and his main concern about the transition is giving contractors who make up 92 percent of his business enough advance notice to make adjustments in their bids. He reported that so far, customers are willing to buy CCA-treated lumber after reading information about the product.

Last month the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal agency, announced the results of a study that showed CCA can be a carcinogen. Out of every one million children exposed to CCA-treated lumber an average of three times a week, between two and 100 might develop lung or bladder cancer, the study concluded.

Last August, the Environmental Working Group reported the amount of arsenic found on the surface of CCA-treated lumber exceeds safe levels even after years of wear.

In February 2002, when the agreement was reached with lumber producers, the EPA said CCA-treated lumber posed no "unreasonable risks" to the public. The EPA said there wasn't enough evidence to warrant the removal of existing structures made with CCA-treated lumber. However, a new EPA report on CCA's health risks is due later this year.

While the safety commission has determined that CCA poses a cancer risk to children, it has not acted on a petition to ban CCA-treated lumber. The commission's staff recommends such a decision be deferred until after the EPA and producers reach a final agreement on the phaseout.

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