Consumers Pay The Price For Ban On Treated Wood

Consumers Pay The Price For Ban On Treated Wood

Logomasini Op-Ed in The Detroit News
April 09, 2002

If you've been thinking about building a new deck, act now. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying an additional 20 percent or 30 percent for your project, and you might have to replace that deck sooner than expected. The reason: a group of "green builders" and environmental activists think they know better than you what materials are safe for your families. They have pushed for -- and have won -- the elimination of the chemical that preserves the wood that you would use in those projects. You may have received letters in which environmentalists "inform" you of the "dire risks" posed by your deck, and they may have asked for help in this "crisis": Please send money. Environmental groups also will give to you -- for a fee, of course -- kits to test your deck to see if it's "dangerous." You might want to rip it down, they say. Then their friends in the green constuction business can help you design and build another one -- for another, very big fee. In addition, the three companies in the business of producing the chemical preservative have voluntarily agreed not to make it anymore. They have a more expensive alternative for you, and they are the only ones that make it. It's been in use for a couple of years, so they can't guarantee that your wood will last as long using the new product. Then there is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has banned the chemical. The product at issue is chromated copper arsenate or CCA, which has been safely used on what most people know as pressure-treated wood for more than 60 years to prevent rotting and termite infestation of outdoor structures, such as decks, docks, fences, retaining walls and even some home foundations. Concerns about the wood's safety come from "studies" conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Healthy Building Network. The EWG is famous for its sham scientific studies that claim all sorts of ills that never come to pass. The Healthy Building Network is an affiliate of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a self-described "coalition of environmental health activists, green building professionals and others." "It is unfortunate that the EWG's analysis does not succeed in separating facts from fears or, in my opinion, produce credible and useful information," says risk assessment expert Louis A. Cox Jr. of the University of Colorado and the Denver-based Cox Associates. "The risk to children has not been quantified by EWG in any standard, credible or technically correct way. This type of half-finished analysis along with its unsupported conclusions and recommendations illustrate why a credible, competent risk assessment is so important." EPA has conducted a risk assessment in the past, and the agency maintains that it "has not concluded that CCA-treated wood poses any unreasonable risk to the public or the environment." The agency was planning to do an updated risk assessment, but decided to ban the product a year before it is scheduled to be complete. The agency says it issued the ban simply because the producers of the chemical voluntarily agreed to phase it out. For the companies, the ban is merely a business decision. They don't want to fight environmental groups and trial lawyers who are making specious claims about CCA, particularly given that the manufacturers have an alternative product. Basically, we did it for market reasons," John Taylor of Osmose Inc. told the media. But others in the business will experience increased costs. About 350 wood treatment plants that use CCA will be forced to retool their facilities to switch to the new wood preservative. Estimated costs are $40,000 to $200,000 per facility of the $4 billion industry. Much, if not all, of the costs will be passed along to consumers. Costs could escalate if hysteria created by such rulings causes people to dismantle pressure-treated wood structures. Florida has shut down an estimated 24 playgrounds because of CCA hype. Before a federal agency follows the advice of environmental activists and industry, it should at least complete its scientific assessment. The EPA's regulatory rush to judgment on CCA may serve special interests well, but consumers will pay the price.