A Call for CCA Phase-out

Given the alarming situation that has arisen with disposal of CCA-treated wood over the past two decades (see page 1), the editors of

Environmental Building News are taking the unusual step of proposing a phase-out of this product. This recommendation is driven not by the toxicity of CCA-treated wood in use, but by concerns relating to its disposal.

More than 5 billion board feet (12 million m3) are being produced each year, and the amount is increasing. Moreover, because CCA-treated wood became popular starting in the early 1970s, it is now beginning to come out of service. It will be reaching the waste stream at a rapidly increasing rate over the next few decades, becoming a huge burden against declining landfill space.

CCA-treated wood doesn’t clearly pass the EPA’s standard hazardous waste test. The treated wood industry received a special exemption from the hazardous waste law, so little data on its performance in relation to hazardous waste is available.

Incineration of CCA-treated wood appears to be an unacceptable disposal alternative from either a human-health standpoint or an environmental standpoint—even in state-of-the-art municipal incinerators. Furthermore, there is currently no way to segregate CCA-treated wood from the municipal solid-waste stream to ensure that it will not be incinerated.


A timetable should be established by the EPA for the phase-out of CCA and CCA-treated wood products. This timetable should provide for a smooth transition to safer products, such as copper-based wood preservatives. Because all three CCA manufacturers have developed these alternative products, a fairly rapid transition to a less toxic generation of chemicals should be possible. One way to spur this phase-out would be to eliminate the exemption to the TCLP rule that CCA-treated wood currently enjoys.

Because copper poses an environmental risk to aquatic ecosystems (even though it is not one of the 39 chemicals covered by the TCLP rule), copper-based wood preservatives should be discouraged from use in aquatic applications. Recycled plastic lumber is preferred for such projects, as it lasts longer than treated wood and is more resistant to marine borers, which are a significant concern in saltwater applications.

The costs of safe disposal should be factored into the purchase price of treated-wood products. Either the wood treaters, or the companies producing wood-treating chemicals, or a consortium representing all of the various players in this industry should use this “disposal deposit” to operate collection, storage, and degradation/recovery facilities that would process all types of treated wood. Such a disposal deposit would not only cover the cost of safe disposal, but would also provide a strong incentive to the industry to develop a new generation of preservatives that could be more easily dealt with at the disposal end of their life-cycle.

There is an opportunity for the wood preservative industry to take a leadership position in the transition to more environmentally responsible and healthier practices regarding the management and use of treated wood. If the industry were to act on its own, before the imposition of top-down regulations, it would be a world leader from an environmental standpoint, rather than trailing along at the end of the pack.

Published March 1, 1997

(1997, March 1). A Call for CCA Phase-out. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/call-cca-phase-out

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.