Saturday, November 27, 2010

Don't lick your deck!

This is a rewrite of an article in my Newsletter of January 11, 2003

This is me in today's economy! Not quite yet.
If you can visualize, when I originally wrote this article (I have since sold this house) I was sitting in my den looking across my laptop computer at the TV thinking about past newsletter articles. I was wondering when backdrafting of someone's combustion appliance may cause a problem, if problems with the T & P valve on their water heater may send it through their roof or if much of their conditioned air is being sucked out by their attic power ventilator.

Out the window over the TV was my wonderful three-level deck constructed of the finest grade of CCA treated lumber. You did know I was once a real contractor. It does have a few advantages. During the summer my wife and teenage daughters sun bathed on that deck. Then it hits me; this stuff may harm my grandchildren and yours. Hence today's article.

Warning: Don't lick your deck!

Great deck licker!
All right now, get your dirty little mind out of the gutter. I didn't even think about what you just thought until my little "Realtor" wife said "Lick WHAT?" And you think I'm a dirty old man.

Are you aware that it has now been determined that your deck may kill you and those you love? What is this world coming to? Is there nowhere I can relax without being concerned for my safety, not to mention yours? Did you realize that if you really want to poison your spouse you could rub their steak (or hamburger for those who are in a slump) across the boards on your deck just before throwing them on the grill and add arsenic as a tenderizer? You don't even need to visit the hardware store for rat poison and there will be no record of your purchase of the arsenic. Yep, what do you think keeps them dirty little "T-devils" (what I call termites) out of that there green lumber on your deck.

This is not my deck
Look out your rear window, is there a deck constructed of treated wood on your home? Most of you have one. It may be, or was at one time, "green." What about in the backyard or at your child's neighborhood or school playground is there play equipment constructed of treated wood? What about the house you just listed or sold? If so, you had better pay attention to this.

Per our Environmental Protection Agency, as of February 12, 2002, we were informed of the "voluntary decision by industry to move consumer use of treated lumber products away from a variety of pressure-treated wood that contains arsenic by Dec. 31, 2003, in favor of new alternative wood preservatives." You did get that "voluntary" didn't you. This was a major component of the construction industry and you can be assured that "voluntary" means they had seen the writing on the wall and the guillotine is about to chop off their heads. Did their taking action before the disaster happened to protect their interest? You have heard the words "class action law suite" haven't you? What better defense than "We determined it was a problem and we have voluntarily steered in a different direction."

So, why should I not "Lick my deck?" You know that I know you are not quite strange enough to walk out the back door and lick your deck, don't you? Well, maybe a few of you would. I have seen a few strange ones, but we won't get into that, you know there are no strange home inspectors and absolutely there are no strange builders or Realtors. I think I know a few of all of the above that have been licking their decks and it has affected their brain. Sorry, I'm rambling.

This transition affected virtually all residential uses of wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, also known as CCA, including wood used in play-structures, decks, picnic tables, landscaping timbers, residential fencing, patios and walkways/boardwalks. By Jan. 2004, EPA did not allow CCA products for any of these residential uses. Be aware, most of what you know as "treated wood" in existing structures constructed prior to 2004 is this product!

"This action will result in a reduction of virtually all residential uses of CCA-treated wood within less than two years," says EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Today's announcement greatly accelerates the transition to new alternatives, responding to market place demands for wood products that do not contain CCA. This transition will substantially reduce the time it could have taken to go through the traditional regulatory process." I guess this mean that if the manufacture's hadn't volunteered something worse was about to happen.

"This is a responsible action by the industry," Whitman continued. "Today's action will ensure that future exposures to arsenic are minimized in residential settings. The companies deserve credit for coming forward in a voluntary way to undergo a conversion and retooling of their plants as quickly as possible. The transition to new alternatives will provide consumers with greater choice for their building needs." Do you have any vague idea how much of this stuff is out there already? Just think how much you have seen in your lifetime.

So, what about my deck or my children's play equipment?

Here is what the EPA has to say:

EPA has not concluded that CCA-treated wood poses unreasonable risks to the public for existing CCA-treated wood being used around or near their homes or from wood that remains available in stores. EPA does not believe there is any reason to remove or replace CCA-treated structures, including decks or playground equipment. EPA is not recommending that existing structures or surrounding soils be removed or replaced. Sound a little strange to you? If it isn't any big deal, why did they discontinue its use? Do you think this statement may have something to do with the cost of replacing what is already out there, or the potential lawsuits that might come out of recommendations to remove it?

What should I do about my existing deck or play equipment?

From the EPA:

While available data are very limited, some studies suggest that applying certain penetrating coatings (e.g., oil-based semi-transparent stains) on a regular basis (one re-application per year or every other year depending upon wear and weathering) may reduce the migration of wood preservative chemicals from CCA-treated wood.

How is that for a carefully worded statement?

The EPA goes on to explain what the issue is all about on how you should deal with it:

Arsenic is a known human carcinogen and, thus, the Agency believes that any reduction in the levels of potential exposure to arsenic is desirable. As always, when children play outside, whether around CCA-treated play structures or not, they should wash their hands prior to eating. Also, food should not be placed directly on any outside surface, including treated wood. CCA-treated wood should never be burned, as toxic chemicals may be released as part of the smoke and ashes. Consumers who work with CCA-treated wood are encouraged to use common sense in order to reduce any potential exposure to chemicals in the wood. Specific actions include sawing, sanding and machining CCA-treated wood outdoors, and wearing a dust mask, goggles and gloves when performing this type of activity. Clean up all sawdust, scraps and other construction debris thoroughly and dispose of it in the trash (i.e., municipal solid waste). Do not compost or mulch sawdust or remnants from CCA-treated wood. Those working with the wood should wash all exposed areas of their bodies thoroughly with soap and water before eating, drinking or using tobacco products. Work clothes should be washed separately from other household clothing before wearing them again

What is the EPA doing about this issue?

During the past several months (January 2003), CCA-treated wood has been the subject of an EPA evaluation under provisions of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which direct EPA to periodically reevaluate older pesticides to ensure that they meet current safety standards. The Agency is continuing to proceed with a risk assessment. EPA is also continuing to evaluate public comments and input from an external scientific review panel on methodologies to perform a risk assessment for residential settings and potential exposure to children from CCA.

Hum - - Thinking about licking my deck.
You have the general idea of the issue and this has become a bit long but, if you are interested in more and how this may relate to your children or grandchildren here are questions and answers provided by the "U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission" in February of 2002 (these have been edited for brevity and to remove duplicated statements):

What is chromated copper arsenate (CCA)?

Chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, is a chemical compound mixture containing inorganic arsenic, copper and chromium that has been used for wood preservative uses since the 1940s. CCA is injected into wood by a process that uses high pressure to saturate wood products with the chemicals. CCA is intended to protect wood from dry rot, fungi, molds, termites and other pests that can threaten the integrity of wood products.

Chromated copper arsenate or CCA, is a chemical preservative that is used to protect wood from being destroyed by microbes, termites or other wood-boring insects. CCA contains forms of the chemicals chromium, copper, and arsenic. CCA is largely used to pressure treat lumber intended for outdoor uses such as home, schooland community playgrounds; decks; and landscape timbers. CCA-treated lumber is also used in building structures.

What work is CPSC doing related to CCA-treated wood?

In May 2001, CPSC was petitioned by the Environmental Working Group and the Healthy Building Network to ban the use of CCA-treated wood for playground equipment. In response to this petition, and to define the risk to children, the CPSC staff is evaluating the amount of CCA (in particular, arsenic) that a child might be exposed to while playing on CCA-treated playground equipment.

Do public wood playground structures contain CCA?

School and public playgrounds can be made with a variety of materials, including CCA-treated wood. Many older playground structures have been constructed using CCA-treated wood. In the past year (2003) some playground manufacturers have begun moving away from the use of CCA-treated wood for playground equipment and are using either untreated wood or wood that has been treated with chemicals that do not contain arsenic.

What does CPSC staff know about the amount of CCA that children are exposed to when playing on CCA-treated wood playground equipment?

CPSC staff is currently evaluating the amount of CCA released from both newly purchased, unused CCA-treated wood that might be used for building playground structures and from "used" or "older" wood. CPSC staff is particularly interested in knowing the amount of arsenic that children can be exposed to when they play on CCA-treated wood playground equipment. CPSC staff studies are being conducted by wiping the surface of the wood to measure the amount of arsenic on the wood's surface. The wipe samples are used to estimate the amount of arsenic that might be accessible to children when they rub their hands on the wood surfaces while playing.

How are children exposed to arsenic from playground equipment?

Children can be exposed to arsenic from playground equipment primarily through hand-to-mouth contact when they touch the wood and then place their hands in their mouths. Minimal exposure to arsenic can occur through their skin.

What are the health effects of exposure to arsenic and is there a risk to my child playing on CCA-treated wood playground equipment?

In order to define the risk, the CPSC staff is currently evaluating the amount of CCA, and in particular, the amount of arsenic, that a child might be exposed to while playing on CCA-treated wood playground equipment.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, long-term exposure to arsenic increases the risk of lung, bladder and skin cancer over a lifetime. The risk to children playing on CCA-treated playground equipment depends on the amount of available arsenic on the wood surface, how children are exposed to the arsenic (orally or through skin contact) and the length of time children spend using the equipment. Studies suggest that children may be exposed to arsenic from playing on some CCA-treated wood playground equipment.
The amount of arsenic present in different samples of CCA-treated wood appears to vary and limited test data do not allow staff to define the mechanism by which the amount of available arsenic changes as the wood ages. It may depend in part on the environmental conditions to which the wood is exposed (for example the amounts of heat, sun and rain) as well as the chemical composition of the wood.

In addition to evaluating the amount of the chemical available on the wood surface, CPSC staff is considering product-specific human use characteristics in its assessment. CPSC staff is evaluating the reasonably foreseeable use of the product by considering the age of the child using the product, the type of exposure (hand-to-mouth), the frequency and period of exposure, accessibility, extent of exposure (area contacted), and use environment (exposure to heat and sunlight). The relationship between exposure and adverse health effects will then be considered.

Consumers may wish to take steps to reduce this exposure. These steps are described in the following question and answer.

What can I do to decrease my child's exposure to chemicals found in CCA-treated wood?

CPSC staff is aware that various trade and consumer groups, some state governments, and a Science Advisory Panel (SAP) recently convened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Pesticides, have made suggestions concerning surface coating of CCA-treated wood to reduce potential exposure to chemicals found in this wood.

Based on the limited available data, these groups have suggested that applying certain penetrating coatings (for example, oil-based semi-transparent stains) on a regular basis (for example, once a year or every other year depending upon wear and weathering) may reduce the migration of chemicals in the wood preservative from CCA-treated wood. However, in selecting a finish, in some cases, "film-forming" or non-penetrating stains (latex semi-transparent, latex opaque, and oil-based opaque stains) on outdoor surfaces such as decks and fences are not recommended as subsequent peeling and flaking may ultimately have an impact on durability as well as exposure to the preservatives in the wood.

CPSC staff has not completed its assessment of the effectiveness of these mitigation measures. However, consumers desiring to reduce potential exposure to chemicals found in CCA-treated wood may wish to consider using them.

It is also important to have children wash their hands after playing on playground equipment.
CPSC staff is aware of alternatives to CCA-treated wood. These include both non-arsenic wood preservative chemicals such as ammoniacal copper quat (ACQ) as well as other wood (for example cedar and redwood) and non-wood materials (for example metal and plastic). Consumers may want to consider using these alternatives for new construction.

How can I tell if my playground equipment or deck contains arsenic?

Freshly treated wood, if not coated, has a greenish tint, which fades over time. Historically, CCA has been the principal chemical used to treat wood for decks and other outdoor uses around the home. Generally, if you know that your deck has not been constructed with redwood or cedar, then it is likely that the deck was probably constructed with CCA-treated wood. Alternatively, if you know who the building contractor or wood retailer was, you may want to call and ask.

In 1990 the CPSC looked at the release of arsenic from playing on wood playground equipment treated with CCA. What's different now?

Since that study was conducted, additional health effects data are available. At the time of the 1990 study, skin cancer was the only carcinogenic effect of arsenic ingestion that was considered. New data reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) suggest that long-term exposure to arsenic increases the risk of lung and bladder cancer, as well as skin cancer, and that the health risks posed by exposure to arsenic may be more than previously believed.

Can you explain the recent action taken by the CCA chemical manufacturers concerning CCA-treated wood and how does it affect CPSC's work?

STOP Licking your DECK!
Pesticides must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for certain uses before they can be sold or used in the U.S. CCA has been registered for many uses, including use in dimensional lumber (2 x 4s, etc.) sold to consumers.

In early February, 2002, the manufacturers of CCA asked EPA to remove from their registration many applications of CCA for residential use, including playground equipment, decks, and landscape timbers. According to EPA, manufacturers are phasing out the production of CCA over the next 22 months to allow enough time for wood treatment facilities to convert to alternative chemicals and to ensure the availability of enough wood preservative during the transition time. It thus appears that after December 31, 2003, CCA will no longer be available to treat wood used in residential settings.

The results of this action will likely impact the work that the Commission staff undertakes in the future, particularly in the area of mitigation.

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