St. Petersburg Times
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The facts on CCA wood

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2002

Q: What does the voluntary ban on CCA wood mean?

A: The voluntary ban only covers wood that's likely to come into contact with people, such as decks, boardwalks and playgrounds. CCA wood will still be available for plywood, marine pilings, highway guardrails, bridges, structural timbers for houses, siding, shingles, utility poles, and some agricultural projects, including oyster farms.

Q: How can arsenic affect you?

A: Chronic exposure to arsenic can cause cancer or other health problems. You can pick up minute levels of arsenic from touching treated wood or from touching soil that is contaminated with arsenic.

But it doesn't readily absorb through the skin. The main route of exposure from CCA-treated wood is hand-to-mouth, meaning people touch the wood or contaminated dirt and then eat, smoke or put their hands in their mouths.

People also can inhale arsenic sawdust when working with the wood. Smoke from treated-wood fires is toxic, and the ash is hazardous.

Some people have won legal settlements with the wood-treatment industry after being poisoned by the wood. Arsenic poisoning can cause neurological problems, numbness and paralysis.

Q: How much risk does it pose?

A: That's a tricky question, as homeowners will soon find out if they call around for an answer.

Sometimes, researchers are being paid by the very industry that produces a toxin. Sometimes, government regulators don't have the resources to do their own risk analysis. And, almost always, everyone involved argues over how, exactly, the risk is calculated. Is it based on a full-grown adult? On a small child? Many times, authorities contradict one another, with one state going with one number, another state going with a different number, and the federal government going with another.

A toxicologist hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection says children can pick up enough arsenic during their childhood years playing on wooden playgrounds to increase their risk of cancer later in life.

The wood-treatment industry says arsenic comes off the wood, but says the levels are too low to worry about.

In the end, consumers have to make a judgment call on how much risk -- or how many unknowns -- they are willing to accept.

Q: How can I get my neighborhood playground tested?

A: Call your local government.

Do's and don'ts

Don't bleach or use deck brighteners on CCA wood.

Don't inhale the sawdust. Saw the wood outdoors. Wear a dust mask. Collect the sawdust and throw it away.

Don't use CCA wood for cutting boards or counter tops.

Don't use CCA wood to store food or animal feed.

Don't use CCA wood for wood chips or mulch.

Don't burn CCA wood; the smoke and ash are toxic.

Don't let CCA wood come into contact with drinking water.

Don't grow edible plants near CCA wood; put a plastic liner on the inside of CCA boards used to frame garden beds.

Wash exposed areas thoroughly after working with the wood -- and before eating, drinking or smoking.

Wash children's hands after they play on CCA-wood playgrounds.

If sawdust gets on your clothes, wash them separately.

Keep children and pets out of under-deck areas.

Only use CCA wood that is visibly clean, dry and free of surface residue.

Don't store tools or children's toys under a CCA-treated deck.

Don't let kids or pets play beneath CCA-treated structures.

- Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Wood Preservers Institute, Connecticut Department of Health, Florida Departments of Health and Environmental Protection.

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