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Suppliers Are Slow To Switch From CCA

Only one major local supplier has begun the EPA-mandated phaseout

Aug 4, 2003 | Gainesville Sun

When Joe Prager sets out to build his four-board horse fence in southwest Gainesville soon, weather-resistant wood will be key. With one acre of land, a modest-sized barn and ample grazing area, horses could one day fill the enclosure, he says. If they do, rotten fence posts would be of little use.

But until a safe alternative to chromated copper arsenate long the lumber of choice for outdoor decks, swing sets and other all-weather structures starts showing up on local home improvement store shelves, Prager says he will hold off on his fence-building plans.

"I certainly don't want to handle any more CCA wood for the rest of my life," the 43-year-old Gainesville resident said recently.

Unfortunately for Prager, if he's hoping to build this summer, he may have little choice.

With less than five months before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mandatory phaseout of CCA begins, only one of Gainesville's seven major building suppliers has begun stocking non-arsenic treated alternatives. Despite the numerous wood products currently available from timbers saturated in copper to plastic-fiber composites regional suppliers appear reluctant to make the switch, until they have to.

And that doesn't sit well with do-it-yourselfer's like Prager.

Retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's "can't proceed to be ignorant of the hazards of this product anymore," he said in a telephone interview Friday.

Last year, in conjunction with Beyond Pesticides, a national advocacy group committed to pesticide safety, Prager filed suit to force the EPA to ban the use of arsenic, creosote and other chemicals used in the wood-treating process.

"I have to wonder when (area retailers) are going to start stocking non-arsenic treated wood," he said.

It's a question many builders may be asking, but one that few suppliers can, or will, answer.

"Right now we still have the CCA and don't really know what we are going to go to" after the phaseout, said Andy Dampier, purchasing agent for Contractors Supply on Waldo Road in Gainesville. Non-CCA products have yet to become permanent fixtures at his store, Dampier added.

Others suppliers were not as forthcoming with their uncertainty.

Officials at Home Depot and Lowe's, both of which only stock pressure-treated CCA at their local stores, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Since February 2002, when the EPA ruled that the sale of wood intended for residential use and treated with chromated copper arsenic a product used for decades to protect lumber from rot which contains toxic levels of cancer-causing arsenic must stop as of Dec. 31, chemical manufacturers have scrambled to meet an expected surge on non-CCA products.

Universal Forest Products, the nation's leading manufacturer and distributor of wood and wood-alternative products, for example, has begun converting some of its treating facilities from CCA to ACQ, a copper-based preservative considered less environmentally toxic, according to Scott Conklin, the company's vice president for wood preservation.

Still, for whatever reason, the hurried pace of chemical transition hasn't translated into in-stock inventories at local building supply stores. In fact, between now and the EPA's phaseout date, some industry-watchers expect CCA wood supplies to actually increase as wood preservers look to unload already-treated stocks to area retailers.

Suppliers will be able to continue stocking CCA-treated wood into the new year as long as it was produced before the Dec. 31 deadline.

But despite the slow stocking response, and the potential over-saturation of CCA between now and January, there are options for the weekend handyman or woman hoping to nail together an arsenic-free deck, swing set or other outdoor structure in the Gainesville-area this summer. One local store, Central Builder Supplies of Gainesville on NW 22nd Street, stocks a wide selection of non-arsenic treated products, including ACQ.

Other stores, including Contractors Supply on Waldo Road and Combs Lumber and Supply on NW 8th Avenue, said they can order products at customer's request, for a nominal fee.

So what should you look for when planning your next outdoor building project? Here is a partial rundown of non-arsenic treated-wood that could soon be lining the aisles of Alachua County lumber yards:

Alkaline Copper Quartenary:

One product likely to saturate the market in coming months is Alkaline Copper Quartenary, or ACQ, the most widely used non-arsenic water-based wood preservative in the world.

Unlike CCA, which relies on toxic amounts of arsenic pumped into lumber to ward away pests and mold, ACQ's primary ingredient is copper, a relatively inert ingredient and an essential nutrient for human health.

Quartenary, or Quat, a type of fungicide that attacks decay organisms, provides additional protection against rot and termite attacks, and is used in a wide array of consumer goods, from wood to paints to feminine hygiene products.

More than a decade before the call to phase out CCA was finalized, Chemical Specialties Inc., a multinational supplier of wood protection technology based in Charlotte, N.C., began offering ACQ-treated wood to consumers. Osmose, once the world's largest manufacturer of CCA, has begun producing another ACQ-based product called NatureWood.

And while ACQ is considered far safer than CCA, when ingested in large amounts, copper toxicity can lead to nausea, diarrhea and stomach problems, doctors report. In people with rare genetic conditions, copper toxicity may even adversely effect bodily and organ functions.

Health concerns aren't the only drawbacks to consider when deciding on ACQ - unlike CCA, ACQ is not suited for use in marine environments.

As such, marine pilings, docks or other structures that will have direct contact with salt-water are not included in the EPA's ban on residential CCA uses.

Some suppliers have also warned that because of ACQ's copper-heavy formula, nails and other hardware made from galvanized steel may corrode.

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