Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Deck Fires Cause Health Problems For Firefighters

Fighting a simple deck fire can lead to health problems. Over 90 percent of all outdoor wooden structures in the United States are made with arsenic-treated lumber. Known as Chromated Copper Arsenate, or CCA, exposure to the chemicals contained in this pressure treated wood has been linked to lung cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, cancer in the nasal passages, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The effects of CCA exposure can also cause hair loss, itching skin and rashes, bleeding neurological problems, numbness in the arms and legs and gastrointestinal upsets.
CCA-treated wood, first used in India in 1933 and approved by the American Wood Preservers Association for use by Bell Telephone Co. in 1950, is resistant to insect infestation and rot. The copper and arsenic are fungicides and insecticides. The chromium is primarily a “fixing” agent, bonding the chemicals to the wood. The raw lumber is placed in a pressure cylinder where a vacuum sucks air and water from the wood cells. The cylinders is then filled with a mix of water and pesticides and pressure is increased to refill the wood’s cells with the mixture. As the wood dries, the chemicals are trapped inside.

CCA wood is most dangerous when it is burned and the arsenic is released into the air and it concentrates in the ashes. Just one tablespoon of ash contains a lethal dose of arsenic. "Wood decks, play sets and picnic tables all pose a risk and firefighters should protect themselves from the fumes emitted from these fires", said Ricky E. Bagolie, a Jersey City attorney with Bagolie Friedman who represents firefighters.

Arsenic and chromium are carcinogens and mutagens, according to the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. EPA declared that use of chromated copper arsenate, CCA, was to end by December 2003. "Exposure can occur through breathing or through repeated skin contact. High or repeated exposure can cause cancer, neurotoxicity, including paralysis, warty skin growths, and liver and kidney failure, all of which should be covered under the Workers' Compensation System" said Bagolie.