Wood Preservatives and the Battle of Big Government

Copper naphthenate treated telephone poles photo

Photo: PRNewswire

We live in strange times. Amidst flying accusations about how the USA got into the current economic state, and who is responsible for it, many a finger has pointed at the burden of Big Government on the backs of small businessmen. Shockingly, this has even raised more than one call to ban the EPA (known among some republicans as the JKOA, Job Killing Organization of America, never mind that the American majority supports the EPA).

But we are rational, questioning beings, seeking the truth. Is the EPA hurting jobs? If so, is it worth it? Here is a case study on delicate dance between EPA, businesses, and the health of the population and its environment in the USA.Government Steps In
This microcosm of Big Government versus Small Business finds its roots in 2007, when the re-registration eligibility decision for copper naphthenate salts came due. Copper naphthenate salts are used as wood preservatives. Re-registration is the periodic review of any registered pesticide, necessary to ensure that new evidence and risk assessment methods do not indicate that the pesticide is doing more harm than good.

Copper naphthenate seems not to be a bad actor in general. But available studies do show that copper naphthenate does leach out of treated wood, does persist in the environment, and is toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, oysters, and shrimp.

EPA decided they needed more data, especially a fish bioaccumulation study and studies on a dozen aquatic and marine species. EPA also required some new label statements, for example to remind users not to dump residues without treatment, and to keep lumber stored away from places where rainwater could carry the preservative into lakes, streams, wetlands, etc.

From the point of view of ensuring the safe use of a pesticide, it seems pretty reasonable to expect the manufacturers (who profit from the sale of the preservative, who else should pay for these studies?) to be able to tell EPA the information needed to ensure the safe use of the product they are selling. EPA issued a Data Call-in (DCI) to all registered manufacturers in 2010.

Business Steps Out
What happened next is that the businesses selling copper naphthenate salts as wood preservatives decided they would rather stop selling the stuff than spend the money to generate the data being requested by the EPA. (Can you hear the screams of "job killing effectiveness: 100%"?)

However, there was a problem with this scenario. Copper naphthenate is probably the good guy. At least it is probably less bad than the other stuff that will be used to replace it once existing stocks are gone.

Enter Nisus Corporation. Nisus made their name selling "earth friendly pest contol," based on borate treatments for wood, and registered the tag line "Green Pest Management®" to describe a program that uses non-pesticidal practices to reduce infestation so that pesticide application can be minimized.

Nisus vice president Dr. Jeff Lloyd says: "If the industry lost this product, it would immediately result in an increase in the use of non-wood alternatives and have a long-term detrimental effect on our industry and the environment."

Common Sense Prevails
Nisus went directly to EPA. Nisus CEO Kevin Kirkland:

We needed labels written for submission to EPA, independent chemical data generation and contract manufacturing while we built our production facility. We also had to develop marketing materials and alert the entire industry to reassure them that copper naphthenate was not going away. It was an incredible amount of work for our group, and one of the most impressive parts of the process was the performance of EPA.

When I met with the EPA staff in Washington, D.C., they had a complete understanding of the situation and the potential consequences. EPA management assured us they would process the Nisus registration applications expeditiously in order to minimize any interruption in the supply of registered copper naphthenate. In every instance through this process EPA did exactly what they said they would do and they did it exactly in the time frame given - or sooner. Normally this process would take a minimum of six months, but in this case the folks at EPA got it done in just six weeks without lowering any standards

Now Who Looks Like the Bad Guy?
In this case, the business-as-usual guys decided keeping their product, and the jobs making it, was not worth the investment. But a company with policies more committed to keeping the better alternatives on the market finds it makes economic sense.

So who is the bad guy? Big Government? Or businesses blaming Big Government when it is their own greedy decisions killing their product lines? Now the employees who lost out when their employers dropped the ball better put an application in over at Nisus, which will own the entire market for their new copper naphthenate product line.

If you think the EPA is in the right, send EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson some love.

More on the EPA:
Is the EPA Letting the Chemical Industry Regulate Itself?
EPA Releases Names of 150 Secret Chemicals
Why We Need the EPA: The Daily Show Edition (Video)

Wood Preservatives and the Battle of Big Government
We live in strange times. Amidst flying accusations about how the USA got into the current economic state, and who is responsible for it, many a finger has pointed at the burden of Big Government on the backs of small businessmen.

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