Family says chemicals in wood ruined their health; same wood used in some decks, playgrounds


by Adam Walser

Louisville, KY (WHAS11) - It is an I-Team investigation that could affect thousands of homeowners and renters.

Our investigation found certain types of wood in decks and playground equipment contain a potentially toxic chemical compound, called Chromated Copper Arsenate.

It wasn't supposed to be sold to residential customers after 2004, but we’ve discovered it’s still easy to get. And some people who come into close contact with it are becoming very sick.

A boarded up, fenced off house near Madison, Indiana that was once Arthur and Connie McGuire's dream home, is now considered a toxic waste site by the EPA.

“It's really heartbreaking to me,” said Arthur McGuire. Since 2007, the McGuires haven't been allowed to mow their lawn or to use their deck or the main level of their house.

“We want it back. We want our house back,” said Arthur McGuire. “It's your castle. It's where you live. “

The problem?  The EPA says the Chromated Copper Arsenate, or CCA, treated wood they used to build their  huge deck contains toxic levels of arsenic, a chemical also found in rat poison.

The McGuires began having health problems while building their deck by hand in late 2000.

“I started passing out. Blacking out. I had migraine headaches so severe, I couldn't tolerate them,” said Arthur McGuire.

His wife Connie's hair started falling out.

“I have vertigo, dizziness,” Connie McGuire said. “It's just really affected my life.”

Hundreds of warts appeared on their daughter.

And their young son, who worked daily on the deck, suddenly became bedridden.

“He was having severe chest pains. Doctor did some tests and told us he was having a heart attack. He was 16 at the time.”

Then squirrels and cats began dying after licking white powder that leached from the treated wood.

Tests after their deaths showed their blood had levels of arsenic hundreds of times higher than what's considered safe.

The McGuires believe part of their arsenic exposure came from burning scrap treated wood for nightly cookouts.

“Pitch it on there, roast hot dogs. Not knowing the chemicals is in the wood. Not knowing at all,” Arthur McGuire said.

The federal government knew of the potential dangers of CCA pressure treated wood more than 25-years-ago, but still allowed consumers to buy it.

Retailers were asked 10-years-ago to put warning stickers on the wood and provide written information about its potential dangers.

But the program was voluntary.

By late 2003, after increasing pressure from consumer groups, manufacturers agreed to voluntarily cancel residential uses of the wood, but a ban was never imposed.

McGuire says he bought the wood for his deck at a Madison lumberyard, but never received any information about potential hazards.

Even today, retail lumber companies can still legally sell CCA wood for agricultural purposes, but it’s located in the same section as other outdoor wood products.

WHAS11 was able to buy it at two stores in Madison. Very few that we saw had recommended labels, and we were not offered any information at either store.

“A lot of these people use these posts to build chairs to sit on your decks because I've seen it made out of this material. Swing sets,” said Arthur McGuire.

Largely because of what happened to the McGuires, and their persistence in contacting state and federal agencies, a new nationwide education campaign about CCA treated wood will launch this summer.

New brochures will be distributed to thousands of retailers.

Recommendations include keeping children away from CCA treated wood and avoiding bleaching or pressure washing  the product.

“Once the wood ages or if the wood's wet, you can't tell the difference in the wood,” said Arthur McGuire. “And if you tear out wood, unless you have it tested, you're not gonna know the difference.”

Mcguire hopes the story of his family's nightmare will help keep the same thing from happening in other peoples dream homes.

Mcguire has spent nearly $100,000 removing arsenic from his property.

He's currently involved in a lawsuit against the manufacturer and retailer of the wood.

We spoke to a representative of the American Wood Protection Association, who says that CCA treated wood is generally safe if used as intended.

He urges those with people with concerns about the wood to regularly apply stains or sealers to prevent contact with arsenic.

If you have any questions about the wood on your deck, contact your local health department.

More information from the CPSC:

CPSC CCA Information

EPA CCA Information

EPA Consumer Safety Information Fact Sheet

Guidance for Outdoor Wooden Structures (PDF)