- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Termites gnawing on your deck? Got a fence that needs fixing? New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules governing the manufacture of pressure-treated lumber that will begin going into effect this month might make such projects a more frequent chore.

That's because EPA is demanding that arsenic levels in chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a compound used in the pressure-treating process, be cut from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. EPA says the new rules will help make ground and drinking water cleaner and safer. But critics charge that EPA is once again issuing new rules without scientific evidence.

Specifically, the desired reduction from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion is apparently arbitrary, with no evidence that the reduced levels will aid public health for the better. "The rule is so overwhelming. It could affect us in so many ways … If there is no threshold for what a carcinogen is, the rule could be applied to rain that is washed off the roof," said Mel Harkrader Pine of the American Wood Preservers Institute. "We have no idea where it will end."

Almost all pressure-treated wood sold in the United States uses CCA (98 percent); some 350 plants would be affected as well, not to mention Harry and Harriet Homeowner, who might find the boards they purchase less resistant to wood-boring insects and the elements. Critics say the total cost of the arsenic rules, which are to be implemented over the course of the next five years, could cost billions annually. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico has introduced a bill to put the kibosh on the EPA's arsenic diktat, which he claims would cost his own state $400 million just to update water-treatment facilities.

The real issue, though, is not cost per se but rather justification. It's one thing if EPA issues a rule to address a legitimate problem. However, it's quite another thing for EPA to simply issue expensive ukase that's essentially arbitrary, or at least, which lacks objective scientific support. Mr. Domenici is right to seek revocation of the EPA's new arsenic rules, and deserves to be supported in his endeavor.

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