Regulators Fail To Implement Toxic Timber Bans


Regulators Fail To Implement Toxic Timber Bans

April 2 2012

Friends of the Earth today criticised the failure of government regulators, both at the national and state level, to list Copper Chrome Arsenate (CCA) as a Restricted Chemical Product [RCP] and for their inability to provide consumers with safety information regarding the dangers of working with treated timber products impregnated with CCA.

“Friends of the Earth has been waiting for almost a decade for these changes. It appears the process has been deliberately slowed down, so that the necessary changes are not made” said FoE spokesperson Anthony Amis.

In March 2003, the federal regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) announced a review of registrations of timber treatments containing arsenic and also released a review scope document. In March 2005, the APVMA released its final review which detailed regulatory arrangements for future use of CCA. Of particular concern was use of CCA and its exposure to children.

According to the CSIRO “While not a mutagen, arsenic acts as a carcinogen when ingested at rates above certain tolerable limits. It may initiate skin and liver cancers.”

Commentators in the United States have warned that this could be the ‘next tobacco’ or the ‘next asbestos’, because of the large numbers of people exposed to CCA timber. The US EPA's Incident Data System contains reports of injury from CCA-treated timber, listing incidents of “itching, burning, rashes, neurological symptoms, and breathing problems after handling lumber; damage to nerves in feet and legs from CCA sawdust and fumes from construction; chronic rash; eye swelling from dust; headache, nausea, shakiness, and thirst from cutting timber; rashes on arms from dust; nausea and headache from drilling timber”.

In 2005 the APVMA put restrictions  “...on the use of CCA timber for garden furniture, picnic tables, exterior seating, children’s play equipment, patio and domestic decking, and handrails.”

The APVMA review also meant some uses of CCA timber would be phased out and that label changes would:

*“require that timber treatment facilities be designed and operated to meet appropriate Australian Standards (AS/NZ 2843 Pt 1& Pt 2)
*specify the circumstances in which CCA products can be used, and to prohibit uses of CCA for timber used in garden furniture, picnic tables, exterior seating, children’s play equipment, patio and domestic decking, and handrails
*require that timber be clearly identified as having been treated with CCA
*include more detailed instructions for timber treatment operations
*waste management and disposal and protection of the environment.
*“Compliance of smaller CCA plants to the Australian Standards was supposed to occur by June 2006, but this still has not happened.

States and the treated timber industry have obviously been reluctant to bring about all the necessary changes,” said Mr Amis.

For a product to become an RCP, agreement between the states and APVMA must occur, through sign-offs of respective state control of use frameworks. Only through the state sign offs can the APVMA then legislate the necessary changes.

RCP status means that only people with special training can use the chemicals associated with timber treatment. “It is disappointing that the APVMA has not carried out a review of the occupational health of timber treatment workers as FoE has concerns that worker health at timber treatment plants and work sites is still occurring” Mr Amis said.

"Effectively the federal regulator has been stymied by a non-compliant industry and disinterested state government bureaucracies who have refused to sign off on the necessary changes for CCA to become a RCP. This means that a host of timber treatment plants could still operating in a manner that could breach the supposed Australia standard," said Anthony Amis.

This situation is even more serious because limited or no safety information is being presented to consumers at the point of sale regarding the dangers of using CCA treated timber. Many sellers of CCA timber are advertising it as treated timber, but not stating specifically that the timber has been treated with arsenic.

Friends of the Earth is concerned that CCA treated pine could still be making its way into applications [eg domestic decking] that should not be used where children can be exposed, and that consumers using CCA timber, such as home renovators,  may still be unaware that there are dangers in using or disposing of CCA treated timber as this product is usually given the generic term 'treated timber' in most advertisements.

Approaches to CCA retail sellers around Victoria and South Australia in March revealed that almost no consumer safety information sheets are distributed to customers at the point of sale. Staff working at large retail hardware chains such as Bunnings and Mitre 10 believe that it was not their responsibility to hand out safety information as there was no legislation compelling retail stores to do so.  Some hardware store staff asserted that the manufacturer should be providing that information.

“It is FoE's belief that many consumers over the past six years have inadvertently been using a potential RCP product without adequate information provided to them concerning potential health and environmental concerns,” Mr Amis said.

“It is also apparent that a lack of co-operation between the states and federal government has been the key stumbling block in the CCA matter. This 'stand-off' could also have serious implications for the ongoing National Harmonisation of Agvet Chemicals process between the states and the federal government,” Mr Amis concluded.

For more information contact Anthony Amis 0425 841 564