Use of CCA-treated timber in post-earthquake rebuild of Christchurch, New Zealand, sparks public health concerns

LOS ANGELES , October 29, 2013 () – The increasing use of timber treated with copper chromium arsenic (CCA) in the post-earthquake rebuild of Christchurch, New Zealand, has sparked public health concerns, The Press reported on Oct. 26.

CCA preservative has either been banned or had restrictions placed on its use in several countries--including the U.S., Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Ireland, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia--in the years since arsenic was found to leach from the treated timber.

According to The Press, New Zealand is among the world's largest users of CCA-treated wood products, and bracing plywood treated with CCA is increasingly being used for residential repairs and rebuilds in Canterbury.

CCA, with its pesticide and anti-fungal properties, allows for wider use of radiata pine, a fast-growing softwood not resistant to insects and fungi, The Press noted.

According to Dr Meriel Watts, scientist co-ordinator for Pesticide Action Network NZ, the risk to public health posed by CCA-treated timber products is “unacceptable”.

Watts told The Press arsenic could leach into soil or water, and that the burning of CCA-treated timber created a "serious health risk."

However, the New Zealand Timber Preservative Council argues there have been no recorded cases of illness or death in New Zealand linked to CCA.

New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority keeps CCA under review, but told The Press it could not ban CCA without reassessing it, nor could it control how the preservative is used.

After a 2003 review on CCA, the agency did urge schools to avoid or seal timber treated with it, and advised workers using it to wear protective clothing.

Carter Holt Harvey Ltd. and Juken New Zealand Ltd., which both produce plywoods in New Zealand that can contain CCA, were unwilling to discuss their use of the preservative when contacted by The Press.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it was not aware anything had changed since the 2003 review had considered existing legal limits for the amount of CCA in timber were safe.

However, Labour Party building and construction spokesman Shane Jones was concerned that other countries had take a more cautionary approach and promised The Press it would raise the matter with the Building and Housing Minister.

The primary source of this article is The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, Oct. 26, 2013.

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