4 June 2003
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
"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
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