Overview of the CCA Controversy
In the 1970s, it was considered a “miracle product”. Today, many consider it a disposal nightmare and a serious health hazard. It is known to contain two hazardous compounds, one of which is a deadly poison. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency are both reviewing this product for safety reasons, because of consumer concerns and the request of a U.S. Senator.
It is found practically everywhere. It is sold in lumber and hardware stores nationwide and used by consumers and contractors to construct decks, playgrounds and fences. But, some cities and counties have removed all traces of it from their playgrounds, and have banned future use of this product. Zookeepers have removed it from their animal’s habitats. Class action lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers and retailers of CCA wood products.
What is CCA? And, why is there a controversy over CCA’s safety? This article will address these points.
What is CCA?
CCA is the abbreviated form of the name for the chemical compound “Chromated Copper Arsenate”. It is sometimes also referred to as “Copper Chromated Arsenate”. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CCA is a highly toxic chemical formulation that “contains water, arsenic acid, chromic acid, and copper oxide”, and is primarily used to as a wood preservative and insecticide/fungicide.
The CCA chemical itself is listed as a hazardous waste under the EPA’s RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) guidelines. CCA-treated wood products, including scrap lumber, would also be considered a hazardous waste where it not for a special exemption.
Why is there a controversy over CCA?
Two of the primary chemical components in CCA- arsenic and hexavalent chromium- are known to be toxic, (poisonous), carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and teratogenic (able to produce birth defects or fetal malformations). The primary concern that most experts have about CCA is that children will be exposed to the arsenic from CCA when they play on playground equipment that is constructed of CCA-treated wood. Experts are worried because the arsenic that leaches from the wood can be picked up by children on their hands, and can end up getting transferred to the child’s mouth, either directly or by handling food. This is of particular concern if the child has Down’s syndrome, or any other similar ailment, where increased hand-to-mouth activity is prevalent (See the article “Laurette Janak’s story”).
Several studies have shown that the arsenic in CCA does in fact leach out of CCA-treated wood, both when the wood is new, and as the wood ages. Also, swipe tests have been conducted to prove that this arsenic is easily transferred to the hands of anyone who comes in contact with the wood. Furthermore, the concern is magnified by the fact that young children will typically play on CCA wood playground equipment several days per year, year after year, thereby increasing the amount of their exposure and their risks of cancer and other health hazards. Another concern is that since arsenic leaches out of the CCA into the surrounding soil, children will also be exposed to arsenic when they play in the dirt, and some of this contaminated soil will end up being ingested by the child.
However, this is not the only health concern related to CCA exposure. (See the BANCCA article entitled “Health Hazards of CCA” for the complete details of the many health hazards associated with CCA, arsenic and chromium exposure.)
As the concerns about the CCA-treated wood in playground equipment mount, many local and state government agencies have taken steps to eliminate the exposure risk to children by testing the soil in playgrounds and parks, by closing playgrounds and remediating the CCA-treated wood and CCA-contaminated soil, and by banning outright the purchase of CCA lumber products. State and county governments in Central Florida have especially taken the lead in this area, as the majority of the research on CCA lumber has taken place in Florida. California and Connecticut have also been very proactive with regard to CCA research.
One Florida State Representative sponsored a bill to ban CCA wood from playgrounds in Florida and several US Senators have also gotten involved in the CCA controversy. Among them are U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who has sponsored legislation calling for warning labels on CCA wood and has pressured the EPA to complete its investigation into the hazards of CCA lumber products and publish a report of its findings.
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