UF, others turning away from CCA

Published: Monday, January 14, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 20, 2003 at 12:48 p.m.

Customer by customer, structure by structure, CCA is losing ground to arsenic-free alternatives.


"If there is an alternative, why go with something that has a question over it?"

UF's director of environmental health and safety

The latest example: A massive, 55-foot climbing wall, a 50-foot tower and two other wood structures at the University of Florida's Lake Wauburg recreation area.

UF asked the manufacturer, Alpine Towers International, to use an alternative to CCA because of health and environmental concerns.

"We are in a way trying to be upfront and on the cutting edge with this," said Patrick Cole, assistant director at Lake Wauburg.

By itself, the decision to build the structures with arsenic-free wood doesn't put a dent in the massive market for CCA-treated wood. But UF is joining a small but growing number of individuals and institutions who are moving away from a product that some researchers say is a health risk.

"If there is an alternative, why go with something that has a question over it?" said Bill Properzio, UF's director of environmental health and safety.

Last year, the Alachua County Commission decided to phase out CCA-treated wood on county property, and the state Department of Environmental Protection said it would steer clear when building new decks and boardwalks on state property.

Two years ago, the town of Orange Park decided to build a new playground structure with ACQ, the same nonarsenic preservative used in the Lake Wauburg structures.

Altogether, UF student government paid $251,000 for the structures. UF officials said it cost $2,500 more to use ACQ instead of CCA.

Using an alternative at Lake Wauburg marked the second time in a year UF made a major decision involving pressure-treated wood.

Last March, UF officials closed down the playground at the Baby Gator child-care center after finding troubling levels of arsenic in the soil. Those structures were replaced with a set made from naturally rot-resistant cedar.

Properzio said UF doesn't have a formal policy regarding purchase of treated wood. Decisions will continue to be made "case by case."

Still, "I think there will be a trend," he said. "If the material is available, it would only make sense for us to use the alternative."

Tom Zartman, vice president of operations for North Carolina-based Alpine, said this was the first time a client had requested arsenic-free lumber.

The company, which began in 1990, does 40 to 50 projects each year. Most are made with CCA-treated wood.

Zartman said most treating plants are not equipped to handle the 60-foot poles used in many company projects. For the UF project, poles had to be shipped from Georgia to a treating plant in Wisconsin, then back down to Florida.

Still, Zartman said Alpine was interested in pursuing ACQ, especially because it hopes to do work in Japan, where CCA is highly restricted.

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