AUGUSTA (AP) – A compromise amendment to a bill that would restrict the disposal of pressure-treated wood that contains arsenic is up for a vote Tuesday before the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Cowger, D-Hallowell, would phase out the use of arsenic in the wood, which is used to build backyard decks, playsets and other structures around the home.

Arsenic is considered a potential cancer risk to young children who touch the wood and then put their hands in their mouths.

The amendment makes major concessions to industry groups, but still pleases environmentalists.

“If this is adopted, as far as I know, Maine would become the first state in the country to restrict the disposal of arsenic-treated woods, so we’re pretty happy with that compromise,” said Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

Hal Bumby, president of Maine Wood Treaters Inc. in Mechanic Falls, says the bill is unnecessary because the industry is already moving toward alternative materials.

Bumby says 70 percent of his customer base has already switched to alternatives – not because they believe arsenic is unsafe, but because of the public perception that it is. The industry made a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to phase out the use of arsenic-treated wood by Dec. 31.

The national phaseout applies only to residential uses, and it allows the continued sale of the products until retailers exhaust their supplies.

The original bill, supported by groups such as the American Cancer Society, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Public Health Association, was designed to close some of the loopholes in the national phaseout. Among other things, it bans the sale of arsenic-treated wood for both residential and commercial uses, and bans disposal methods that could contaminate the groundwater or release the toxin into the air.

The bill requires homesellers to disclose the presence of arsenic in their well water or any wood structures around the home. Sellers also would be required to disclose whether the wood has been coated with a sealant during the past six months.

Up for discussion Tuesday will be an amendment that bans sales only for residential uses and requires the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a disposal plan by Jan. 1, 2005.

The amendment also changes provisions regarding real estate transactions to voluntary, largely educational measures that would encourage home buyers to seal their wood structures regularly and test their water for arsenic.

The Maine Bureau of Health estimates that more than 10 percent of private wells in the state have elevated arsenic levels.

Linda Gifford, who represents the Maine Realtors Association, says that under current law sellers already have to disclose whether or not they’ve had a water test, the date of the test, and whether the test uncovered any problems. The proposed legislation, she says, “seemed like an extra expense and delay.”

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