Treated Wood

Pressure Treated Wood and Arsenic Poisoning

Growing Awareness of Dangers

Since the 1940's, lumber producers and manufacturers have used a chemical compound mixture containing inorganic arsenic, copper, and chromium called chromated copper arsenate (CCA) as a wood preservative. Manufacturers inject CCA into wood by a process that uses high pressure to saturate wood products with the chemicals, creating what the public knows as "pressure-treated lumber." CCA protects wood from dry rot, fungi, molds, termites, and other pests that can threaten the integrity of wood products.

In May 2001, the Environmental Working Group and the Health Building Network petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the use of CCA-treated wood for playground equipment. In response to this petition, the CPSC is currently evaluating the amount of CCA (in particular, arsenic) that a child might be exposed to while playing on CCA-treated playground equipment. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took up consideration of the issue of CCA in pressure-treated lumber under the authority granted it by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

The EPA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) classify a primary component of CAA, arsenic, as a "known human carcinogen," or cancer causing agent. Estimates suggest that between 75 and 90 percent of the arsenic used in the United States is used for wood preservation. Virtually all lumber used in construction is pressure treated, with the majority of lumber treated with CCA.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of national data suggests that treated wood is a greater source of arsenic exposure for children than arsenic-contaminated drinking water. EWG estimates that a 40-pound child who plays daily on arsenic-treated wood could suffer exposure to more than five times the arsenic allowed under EPA's proposed drinking water standard (10 parts per billion). Less than 10 percent of all water systems in the U.S. contain arsenic at 10 ppb (USGS 2000), whereas the vast majority of American children have some contact with CCA-treated wood, on wood playgrounds, decks, picnic tables, fences and the like.

Children face a greater risk from arsenic than adults because children are less able to metabolize the metal. According to the EWG, an average five-year-old, playing less than two weeks on a CCA-treated play-set would exceed the lifetime cancer risk considered acceptable under federal pesticide law. A recent analysis by the University of Florida found that the lifetime increased risk of cancer for children regularly touching pressure-treated wood was as high as 1 in 1,000, a thousand times the risk deemed acceptable for pesticides under federal law.

Additionally, many more workers have been harmed as a result of occupational exposure to arsenic and treated wood.

The greatest challenge in a consumer's suit against a lumber manufacturer or retailer is establishing exposure to CCA-treated lumber resulted in the health condition for which the consumer seeks damages.


If you or a loved one has been harmed by Treated wood, contact us to help you determine your legal options.

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