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Bush plan on arsenic opposed

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- A plan by Gov. Jeb Bush to get the state's wood treatment plant to stop using arsenic as a preservative is running into trouble in the Florida Legislature.

TALLAHASSEE -- A plan by Gov. Jeb Bush to get the state's wood treatment plant to stop using arsenic as a preservative is running into trouble in the Florida Legislature.

Lobbyists for a wood treatment industry trade group, the American Wood Preservers Institute, are opposing the roughly $700,000 the Bush administration requested in the state budget to convert the plant to arsenic-free wood treatment.

"We just think the money could be better spent," said Mike Petrovich, a Florida lobbyist hired by the American Wood Preservers Institute.

The state makes its own pressure-treated lumber at the plant in Raiford, using prison labor. Like most treated lumber, the wood is infused with a pesticide called chromated copper arsenate, or CCA. State agencies use it in park boardwalks, highway guardrails and other outdoor structures.

After learning that arsenic is leaking out of CCA-treated wood into soils all over Florida, Bush announced in March that he wanted the state to switch to arsenic-free treatment and requested money to switch the plant to more benign chemicals.

Some of the money would also help pay to clean up arsenic contamination at the plant. In the early 1990s, arsenic contamination was discovered near the plant at levels 100 times higher than state standards. The state and PRIDE -- a private company that provides job training to prisoners -- removed a 2-foot layer of arsenic-laced soil that covered more than an acre. Arsenic still must be cleaned from the groundwater.

Bush's environmental chief, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs, says he wants to create a market for arsenic-free wood in Florida. Struhs has already declared a moratorium on CCA-treated wood in state parks. He vowed Wednesday to fight for the money to switch the state plant to arsenic-free treatment.

"We would argue that this makes sense for both environmental and economic reasons," Struhs said.

Companies that make CCA-treated wood are worried that the state plant would have an unfair advantage because state agencies are obligated to buy from the state-run plant first.

"We don't think it's necessarily appropriate to convert it so that it is competing with private industry," said Petrovich, the lobbyist.

He said the wood treatment association wants to use the $700,000 for state grants to private companies "as an incentive to have private industries look at alternatives."

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