The voluntary phaseout of CCA-treated lumber has done little to quell the controversy over those products.
"Treated Wood Poses Cancer Risk to Kids" screamed a mid-November headline on a major newspaper's Web site. The corresponding story reported on preliminary findings of an Environmental Protection Agency "draft risk assessment" of CCA that indicated that children with prolonged exposure to CCA-treated lumber may have an increased risk of cancer. But while the news media have gotten the facts technically correct, the conclusions that homeowners might draw from these reports could be a bit of an overreaction.
First and foremost, it's important to emphasize that these findings are preliminary and subject to review by the EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP). This step is extremely important in this case, because according to EPA spokesman Dave Deegan, the agency used a relatively new methodology to complete the CCA risk assessment. The SAP will review the methodology, not the results; if an error is found, the EPA will make the necessary corrections and issue new findings. The SAP should release the results of its review in early 2004, which could lead to the results eventually shifting in either direction.
Second, Deegan stresses that the findings, if correct, indicate only a very small increase. "We're looking at a one in 100,000 increase at the very highest exposure levels," he says.
The EPA press advisory on this matter was released in the aftermath of a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announcement that denied a petition to ban playground equipment built with CCA-treated wood. The CPSC press release did recommend that parents make sure that their children wash their hands after coming into contact with the wood, but it also indicated that exposure to arsenic could be much greater through background sources such as air and some foods.