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Chromated copper arsenate

Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a wood preservative used for timber treatment, in use since the mid-1930's. It is a mix of copper, chromium, and arsenic formulated as oxides or salts. It preserves the wood from decay fungi, wood attacking insects, including termites, and marine borers. It also improves the weather-resistance of treated timber and may assist paint adherence in the long term.

CCA is known by many trade names, including the world-wide brand Tanalith. The chromium acts as a chemical fixing agent and has little or no preserving properties; it helps the other chemicals to fix in the timber, binding them through chemical complexes to the wood's cellulose and lignin. The copper acts primarily to protect the wood against decay fungi and bacteria, while the arsenic is the main insecticidal component of CCA.

CCA is widely used around the world as a heavy duty preservative, often as an alternative to creosote, and pentachlorophenol. Other water-borne preservatives like CCA include alkaline copper quaternary compounds (ACQ), copper azole (CuAz), ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA), copper citrate, and copper HDO (CuHDO)

Recognized for the greenish tint it imparts to timber, CCA is a preservative that has been extremely common for many decades. Over time small amounts of the CCA chemicals, mainly the arsenic, may leach out of the treated timber. This is particularly the case in acidic environments. The chemicals may leach from the wood into surrounding soil, resulting in concentrations higher than naturally occurring background levels. A study cited in Forest Products Journal found 12–13 percent of the CCA leached from treated wood buried in compost during a 12-month period. On the other hand there have been many other studies in less aggressive soil types that show leaching to be as low as 0.5 ppm (red pine poles in service,) or up to 14 ppm (treated pine in garden beds). A report published in Wood and Fibre Science (Vol 36 pp 119-128, 2004) concluded that soil contamination due to the presence of CCA-treated wood after 45 years is minimal.

Should any chemicals leach from the wood they are likely to bind to soil particles, especially in soils with clay or soils that are more alkaline than neutral.

A number of countries have reviewed CCA during recent years and have looked at limiting the public exposure to CCA-treated timber by restricting its application in residential situations. These reviews have resulted from increasing public pressures and perceptions that arsenic-containing timber poses a health hazard. In response to these pressures the preservation industry in the USA and Canada volunteered not to use CCA for the treatment of residential timber, and on 1 January 2004 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began restricting the use of CCA for such purposes. Exceptions were allowed, including the treatment of shakes and shingles, permanent wood foundations, and certain commercial applications. It should be emphasised however that the regulatory agencies advised that CCA-treated timber products already in use pose no significant threat to health. Indeed CCA will continue to be used in North America in a wide variety of commercial and industrial applications such as poles, piling, retaining structures and many others.

Following the USA and Canada actions in restricting CCA, similar actions have been taken in other parts of the world, including the EU and Australia. Interestingly, the New Zealand authorities, reviewing the same data that prompted the actions elsewhere, concluded that there was no reason to restrict CCA use for any applications (

CCA timber is still in widespread use in many countries and remains an economical option for conferring durability to perishable timbers such as plantation grown pine.

Although widespread restrictions (see above) followed the publication of studies which showed low-level leaching from in-situ timbers (such as children's playground equipment) into surrounding soil, a more serious risk is presented if CCA-treated timber is burnt in confined spaces such as a domestic fire or barbecue. Scrap CCA construction timber continues to be widely burnt through ignorance, in both commercial, and domestic fires.

Notwithstanding this, disposal by burning i.e. in approved incinerators, is an acceptable option. It is particularly attractive if there is some energy captured in the process. In addition, CCA treated timber wastes can also be effectively incinerated using high temperatures, i.e. 800°-1100°C.

Disposal of large quantities of CCA-treated wastes or spent timber at the end of its lifecycle has been traditionally through controlled landfill sites. Such sites are lined to make them impervious in order to prevent losses to the water table and they are covered to prevent rainfall washing out any contained potential toxicants. These controlled sites handle a range of waste materials potentially more noxious than that posed by CCA-treated timber, e.g. paint-stuffs, car batteries, etc. Today, landfill sites are becoming scarcer and disposal of waste materials is becoming economically unattractive. The wood preservation and timber industries are therefore researching better ways of dealing with waste treated timber, including CCA-treated material.

See also:

  • National Pesticide Information Center
  • Timber treatment
  • Paris Green
  • Scheele's Green
  • Ammoniacal copper arsenate (ACA)
  • Ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA)
  • Acid copper chromate (ACC)
  • Arsenic-treated wood to be phased out
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Chromated_copper_arsenate". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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