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Groups sue over arsenic use in wood

©Associated Press

December 11, 2002


WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups and a union asked a federal court Tuesday to ban the use of several toxic materials in treated, pressurized wood products, saying the Environmental Protection Agency isn't moving quickly enough.

Wood preservatives containing arsenic and dioxin have been increasingly targeted as unsafe by advocacy groups. Those preservatives have been commonly used in utility poles, wood decks and playgrounds.

Beyond Pesticides and the Communication Workers of America sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying the EPA has enough evidence about health and environmental dangers to ban the use of chromated copper arsenate, pentachlorophenol and creosote.

Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides's director, said the preservatives were left on the market for the past couple of decades only because alternatives weren't available, but that is no longer the case with the advent of composite and recycled materials.

Lumber companies in February agreed with EPA to phase out by December 2003 wood deck and playset uses of the arsenic-based preservative, a powerful pesticide, in pressure-treated wood. Feldman said the phaseout doesn't cover the majority of uses: utility poles, marine pilings, fences and supporting structures.

EPA began reviewing the risks from the three wood preservatives in 1978 and six years later issued worker protection guidelines. Last year, EPA began requiring consumer warning labels on treated lumber containing arsenic and advocacy groups petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban that product.

Arsenic, both manufactured and naturally occurring, is known to cause cancer, but the preservative industry has said that the arsenic-based preservative has never been linked to skin disease or cancer in children and that its wood is safe when used properly.

EPA spokeswoman Steffanie Bell said the agency worked hard to reach the February agreement with industry and continues to work on a risk assessment. A wood industry trade group didn't immediately return a call for comment.

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