CCA Phaseout: Now the Hard Part Begins

Once the writing was on the wall that consumers didn’t want arsenic in and around their houses and playgrounds, the decision by the treated wood industry to phase it out was quick. On February 12, less than two years after the issue of high arsenic levels in playgrounds was brought to public attention by the

Gainesville Sun, an agreement was reached by industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to eliminate most sales of CCA-treated wood products within two years. Word has it that the industry came to EPA proposing this phaseout, not the other way around.

So in pretty short order we will stop putting chromated copper arsenate into our homes and landscapes. That’s good. (You might recall that

EBN called for a phaseout of CCA in an editorial in 1997—see


Vol. 6, No. 3.) But what do we do with the roughly 75 billion board feet (180 million m3) of CCA-treated wood currently in use around the country? That’s the hard question.

For some applications of CCA-treated wood, there may well be justification for taking it out of service before its useful life is over—to protect children from the arsenic that can leach out. In most applications, however, EPA says the wood is safe. What would be a problem, though, is improper disposal of that wood when it does come out of service. Most important, CCA-treated wood should not be disposed of by standard incineration. In regions where landfilling is not an option, we may need to pursue more advanced disposal methods—perhaps those that disaggregate the toxins from the wood.

So how do we ensure that old CCA-treated wood is not incinerated? We do it by carefully managing that waste stream and funding a comprehensive education program on the proper disposal of this wood. Education is particularly important—not only education of consumers and contractors who are the generators of this waste, but also education of the waste management community.

And how do we pay for that, you ask? Unfortunately, we’re probably stuck with footing the bill out of public funds (unless industry is forced to pay through a tobacco-style legal settlement). What we should have done long ago, however (and what we should do in other industries where pollutants or hazardous waste products are generated) is to levy a fee on those products at the time of sale. The provincial government of British Columbia is doing this with paints and sealants—collecting a fee of Canadian $0.50 on each gallon sold (see


Vol. 8, No. 2). Such a fee could be collected on those CCA-treated products that will still be produced, but the market probably is not big enough to support a program to deal with all the CCA-treated lumber that will come out of service in the coming years.

This concept is something called extended producer responsibility (EPR). Europe has begun to implement this concept for everything from consumer electronics to automobiles, as has British Columbia with paints. It’s time to implement EPR on a wide range of products in this country. Of highest priority are products that have significant environmental or health burdens associated with disposal—such as rechargeable batteries, mercury-containing lamps, televisions and computer monitors (the picture tubes of which contain up to 25% lead by weight), and CCA-treated wood.

Published March 1, 2002

(2002, March 1). CCA Phaseout: Now the Hard Part Begins. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/cca-phaseout-now-hard-part-begins

Add new comment

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