EWG Statement on the Phase-Out of CCA

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Washington - The Environmental Working Group (EWG) today applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for standing up to the chemical and wood treatment industries by forcing the phase-out of arsenic-treated lumber. To coincide with the announcement, EWG released new test results showing high levels of arsenic on decks and playsets made with the highly hazardous product. Because of the consistently high levels of arsenic in lumber on store shelves and in homeowners' backyards, EWG is calling on retailers to stop selling arsenic-treated lumber immediately.

"The question now is what can millions of American families do with the hundreds of square miles of highly hazardous arsenic-soaked lumber in their back yards," said Jane Houlihan, Vice President for Research at EWG. "Children increase their cancer risk every time they play on this wood, and like lead paint this product could drive down property values for millions of homeowners. Home Depot and Lowe's should stop adding to the problem and stop selling arsenic treated lumber immediately."

Laboratory results from the first 37 samples in a nationwide home testing program show that arsenic on the surface of so-called "pressure treated" lumber does not sharply decrease as the structures age, but instead remains on the surface of the wood at extremely hazardous levels for years. Arsenic is also continually washed off the surface of the wood in rainwater and accumulates in the soil below.

Houlihan continued, "We strongly disagree with EPA's unfounded assertion that current structures pose no risk and do not need to be replaced. This is simply not supported by the available science. How can they say there's no risk when they haven't done the risk assessment?"

Arsenic treated lumber is saturated with the pesticide chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which is 22 percent arsenic by weight. Arsenic is the last proven human carcinogen in use in the United States as a pesticide. About 145 million pounds of CCA were injected into wood in the United States in 1996 alone.

graph of arsenic levels on decks

Tests show that dangerous amounts of arsenic rub off the surface of the treated wood, even after it has been in place for years. Average amounts of arsenic found on the surface of municipal play structures is 12 times the maximum level allowed in a glass of tap water by the EPA; on decks the average is 26 times that amount. New wood purchased at Home Depot and Lowes in the fall of 2001, had more than 120 times the arsenic on the surface of the wood as allowed in a child-sized six ounce glass of water. (Figure 1) Results from the first 40 soil samples show that soil beneath arsenic treated structures is contaminated with arsenic at levels more than twice the level allowed at a Superfund site. (Figure 2)

Graph of arsenic levels in soil

"This product should never have been put on the market in the first place. It represents the chemical industry at its absolute worst," said Richard Wiles, EWG Senior Vice President. "Industry lobbied for years to keep arsenic in the wood products American families depend on, and then argued that they didn't know that arsenic was dangerous until the government told them so."

The agreement will require the end of the production of CCA for all residential use of lumber by December 2003, with industry agreeing to phase down production in the interim. Arsenic treated lumber will be available to consumers during the phase down.

People with existing decks should replace the structure if they can afford it, replace handrails and other surface with frequent hand contact, or seal the surface with an oil-based sealant. The data on the effectiveness of sealants, however, is mixed. Hard lacquers or paint may provide initial protection, but sanding during preparation and resurfacing can increase exposure to arsenic dramatically.