On February 12 the EPA announced its voluntary decision, in cooperation with treatment manufacturers, to phase out the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) in lumber by December 31, 2003. CCA, currently the most commonly used wood preservative in the United States, has come under fire recently from the media under accusations that arsenic could leech out of playground equipment and other structures. The decision comes even as the EPA reaffirms its assessment that CCA poses no unreasonable risk if handled and maintained properly.

Preserve wood treatment from Chemical Specialties is formulated with ACQ to protect wood from termites, rot, and decay.
Courtesy Chemical Specialties Preserve wood treatment from Chemical Specialties is formulated with ACQ to protect wood from termites, rot, and decay.

Already, the three largest treatment producers in the United States are promoting new treated lumber alternatives that do not contain arsenic while promising the same results. Alternative treatments have been used in other countries and have been available for a few years here.

Wolman's new product, Natural Select, contains copper azole. Copper makes the wood resistant to termites and most fungi, while azole, a mild organic fungicide, is effective for fungi that are tolerant of copper. "Until recently, there wasn't either an awareness or a demand, but now there is," says Huck DeVenzio, manager of marketing communications for Wolman.<.

Preserve from Chemical Specialties and Nature Wood from Osmose use ACQ, alkaline copper quartenary, which protects the wood from rot, decay, and termites.

"You've got the same level of performance, and the warranties are the same. It can be used in above ground, ground contact, and fresh water applications," says Dave Fowlie, vice president of sales and business development for Chemical Specialties.

For the most part, users will not see much difference between the new wood and CCA-treated wood. The new products are said to perform the same and they carry the same warranty as before. Manufacturers also are recommending installers use the same handling precautions as they did with CCA. One major difference, however, is the price, which is about 10% to 20% more than CCA-treated wood.

The changeover may boost popularity for plastic and composite lumber alternatives, as well. Installers have a range of choices in style and color that mimic the look of wood, but offer low maintenance. And USPL is awaiting BOCA approval on an HDPE product that can be used structurally, a breakthrough already being used commercially.

The phase out has begun throughout the country, and treaters expect the transition to be a smooth one. In fact, many installers may not even notice once they get beyond the cash register.

"With CCA, you have a product that had such a long reign that people are used to depending on it," says Mel Pine, director of communications and state government relations for the American Wood Preserver's Institute. "There's every reason to believe the new generation of [wood] products will prove themselves as well."