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Published: Saturday, 10/20/2001

Treated lumber gets warning flags

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER

A campaign is under way to inform contractors and do-it-yourselfers that the treated wood used for backyard play sets, decks, fences, and other outdoor structures contains arsenic that could be dangerous if not handled properly.

Area stores in the past month have started complying with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's call to post information sheets or place warning tags on lumber about chromated copper arsenate, found in nearly all the treated wood in the United States.

The labels do not seem to have affected sales.

Darcy Mueller, an assistant manager at the Home Depot off Airport Highway in Toledo, said the company's treated wood has been tagged to reflect the EPA warnings and no customers have asked about it.

“We always would make sure that everybody got the message,” she said. “We would tell people, for example, that it's not good to burn this wood in a campfire.”

She said such treated wood doesn't need to be used throughout a play set, just where it comes into contact with the ground.

Jim Woodard, manager of Gladieux Do It Best Home Center, in the Toledo suburb of Oregon, said he has fielded questions from customers concerned about the EPA information sheets, but the majority seem intent on buying treated wood.

Such wood is produced by placing Ponderosa pine or yellow pine in a cylinder and using a pressurized technique to force three chemicals, including arsenic, into the wood, he explained.

“The preservatives make sure it will not rot for 40 years,” he said. “If you put standard wood in, it may only last five to 10 years.”

As part of the federal agency's look at older pesticides, a panel of independent scientists is to meet this week in Arlington, Va., to suggest how the EPA should assess the hazard to children from exposure to the treated wood.

The agency expects to issue a preliminary recommendation next spring and a final decision by early 2003 on whether such arsenic treatment should be banned, said David Deegan, an EPA spokesman. He said the federal office is required by law to periodically re-evaluate older pesticides to determine whether they need to be changed or banned because of health and safety issues.

“It's too early to say what, if anything, will be decided,” he said, “but we're very careful when there's going to be homeowner uses because there's less control of whether it will be kept away from kids or pets.”

Chromated copper arsenate protects wood from dry rot, fungi, molds, termites, and other pests. Such treated wood is commonly used in outdoor settings, such as for decks, walkways, fences, gazebos, boat docks, and playground equipment.

The EPA and the American Wood Preservers Institute in suburban Washington recommend the use of precautions when working with such wood, including:

  • Stay outside when sawing, sanding, or machining wood treated with chromated copper arsenate and wear a dust mask, goggles, and gloves.

  • Thoroughly clean up and dispose of sawdust, scraps, and other construction debris. Do not use such remnants in compost or mulch.

  • Do not burn such treated wood; it releases the toxic chemicals in smoke or ash.

  • Wash thoroughly with soap and water all exposed areas of the body immediately after working with the wood. Wash work clothes separately from other clothing.

    Mel Pine, a spokesman for the wood preservers institute, said the tips are not new but the organization is glad the EPA has instituted the campaign. More information about such treated wood is available by calling 1-800-282-0600 or by logging onto the Internet web site of www.ccasafetyinfo.com.

    Mr. Pine said he has heard of some children becoming ill after inhaling smoke from the burning of treated wood, but he cautioned consumers against panicking about the possible dangers.

    Mr. Woodard, of Gladieux home center, said homeowners have an alternative to using treated woods for their projects.

    “You can go to a natural product, like a redwood or a cedar, which does not rot, but there's a drastic difference in price,” he said. Natural wood for a deck would cost 2 to 21/2 times more than treated wood, he estimated.

    Scott Frost, a merchandiser for the Maumee store of The Anderson's, Inc., said the available low-maintenance products are essentially plastic but look like wood and cost three to four times the price of a wooden deck.

    “And you still have to build the base out of treated wood,” he said.

    Derk Walker, manager of the Carter Lumber store on North Reynolds Road in Toledo, said treated wood is dangerous to someone only within the first 72 hours after it is treated.

    “After that, you can even eat treated lumber,” he said. “For years, people have been using treated lumber for the rails around stables, and horses chew on them and it doesn't hurt them.

    “The only way to get any kind of chemical [reaction] after it's made into treated lumber is to burn it, because the ashes have arsenic.”



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