The treated wood industry has agreed to voluntarily phase out lumber preserved with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a compound containing the carcinogen arsenic, for "virtually all residential uses," EPA Administrator Christine Whitman announced in February. The phase out will be complete by January 2004, when the EPA will make the ban on CCA-treated wood for residential use official, an EPA press release states. CCA is the preservative used in the vast majority of pressure-treated lumber on the market today.

A flier produced by the Healthy Building Network and the Environmental Working Group.
A flier produced by the Healthy Building Network and the Environmental Working Group.

"The preserved wood industry absolutely stands by the safety of wood treated with CCA," Treated Wood Council executive director Parker Brugge told retailers in a letter dated February 12th. The industry chose to participate in the phase out not because of a change in the safety of the product, which has been in use for 70 years, but because of changing "perceptions in the marketplace," the letter states. A fact sheet from the Treated Wood Council cites "substantial media attention" to arsenic created by the debate over federal standards for arsenic in drinking water as a cause of increased consumer interest in arsenic-free wood. Environmental and consumer advocacy groups supporting the ban, however, say the public concern over the substance stemmed from recent studies that found the arsenic in CCA-treated wood leaches into the surrounding soil and onto the hands of individuals who touch the wood.

Before the announcement, Healthy Building News, a publication of the Healthy Building Network, reported in their Winter 2002 issue that the market for CCA alternatives was already "outpacing the regulatory process." The story quotes David Seitz, vice president of playground manufacturer PlayNation, as saying that just six months after offering wood treated with a CCA alternative, that alternative, despite costing 10% more, became 80% of their sales. A Healthy Building Network statement released after Whitman's announcement called the voluntary phase out a "victory for consumers and families that will prevent most arsenic exposure to kids."

The industry will use the 22-month transition period to re-tool its facilities to use the "new generation wood preservatives," which do not contain arsenic. The Treated Wood Council states these alternatives perform identically to CCA and while they currently cost 10% to 20% more, the ultimate price difference following the phase out is still undeterminable.