Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

Bangor Daily News
4 June 2003

Legislators ban lumber treated with arsenic

By Misty Edgecomb

Maine legislators today approved the nation's first ban on the sale of wood treated with arsenic, despite strong opposition from the lumber industry.

"This is a significant action for the protection of children's health," said Michael Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Bangor.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen and can be a fatal poison even in small amounts. Yet for decades, a pesticide with arsenic as a major component has been injected into the pressure-treated lumber preferred for outdoor projects such as decks and children's playground equipment.

Recent risk assessments indicate the arsenic can leach out of wood that is not sealed with varnish or paint, ending up on the hands, and eventually in the mouths, of children, according to the state toxicologist Andy Smith.

Rep. Scott Cowger, D-Hallowell, concerned with arsenic exposure, introduced the bill to increase public awareness about the issue. The bill includes new restrictions on the sale and disposal of arsenic-treated lumber as well as a directive for the state to further study risks associated with arsenic in the environment.

A measure that would have required home buyers to be informed of the presence of pressure-treated lumber or naturally occurring arsenic in well water at the point of sale was removed from the bill. However, the Maine Association of Realtors volunteered to add information about arsenic to its standard check-off form, which already includes such items as lead paint and radon, Cowger said.

Gov. Baldacci is expected to sign the bill, which states that beginning April 1, 2004, Maine lumber dealers can no longer sell arsenic-treated lumber for use in residential construction.

The bill is designed to close a loophole in an agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and chemical manufacturers to stop producing the arsenic-treated lumber by the start of 2004. The federal agreement has no restrictions on sales, so arsenic-treated lumber could be stockpiled and sold for years to come, or even imported from overseas, Belliveau said.

An alternative product, lumber treated with a pesticide that has copper as a main ingredient, is readily available at most lumberyards, and pressure-treated lumber using organic chemicals should be on the market within a few years.

However, the copper-pesticide lumber costs as much as 20 percent more than the arsenic-pesticide lumber, according to Rick Baumgarten, chairman of the board of directors of the National Lumber & Building Materials Dealers Association, and a lumber retailer in Chicago.

The association "came out of the woodwork" and lobbied heavily against the bill over the past week, nearly succeeding in adding an amendment that would have gutted its sales ban, said Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, co-chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and a strong supporter of the bill.

"Everybody is afraid of lawyers and liability," explained Baumgarten, who believes that health concerns are "overblown."

"Arsenic is a buzzword," he said. "[Environmental groups] just scare the living daylights out of mommies."

The Legislature did approve a measure supported by local lumber dealers exempting them from liability in connection with arsenic-treated lumber that they have sold legally in the past. The bill passed in the House of Representatives on Monday with a vote of 82-53, and in the Senate on Tuesday with a vote of 20-14.

"We're basically saying, it's outlawed in Maine, and if you don't sell it, you'll have no problem," Martin said.


For a copy of the legislation, visit: http://janus.state.me.us/legis/LawMakerWeb/externalsiteframe.asp?ID=280009754&LD=1309&Type=1; then click on “H-490” which is the Committee amendment approved by the Legislature; Then, to read the complete text, click on the Right arrows or click on “Download Bill Text”

For arsenic-treated wood, the Maine legislation, LD 1309, closes loopholes in the federal arsenic wood phase-out by requiring that:

• upon the effective date of the bill (~ mid-September 2003), retailers are prohibited from purchasing arsenic-treated wood for most residential uses
• by April 1, 2004, all sales of arsenic treated wood for most residential uses are banned
[by comparison, the U.S. EPA bans the treatment of wood with arsenic for most residential uses after December 31, 2003, but allows sales to continue indefinitely]
• by January 1, 2004, the Department of Environmental Protection must complete a market evaluation of the remaining uses of arsenic treated wood; in 2004, the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature is authorized to introduce a bill to phase out the remaining uses of arsenic-treated wood
• by January 1, 2004, the Bureau of Health must develop an informational brochure on what home owners should know about arsenic hazards from well water and treated wood, including the need to coat treated wood with a sealant on an annual basis to reduce arsenic exposure; for private home sales, sellers must provide this information to buyers; for sales assisted by a real estate agent, voluntary measures are being taken to educate buyers, sellers and agents about arsenic hazards in water and wood
• by January 1, 2005, the Department of Environmental Protection must develop a plan to restrict the disposal of arsenic treated wood in unlined landfills and its burning as a fuel in wood-fired (“biomass”) power plants

LD 1309 also requires:
• by October 1, 2004, the Bureau of Health must develop a comprehensive safe drinking water program for private wells to reduce exposure to naturally occurring arsenic and other contaminants
• by October 1, 2004, the Real Estate Commission must report on the results of voluntary measures to raise awareness about the need to test private wells for arsenic and coat pressure-treated wood structures with sealants to reduce arsenic exposure, among real estate agents and home sellers and buyers

 
   
   

 

 

 

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