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State Ban on Disposing Treated Wood Hammers Home-Improvement Business

ANTIOCH (KPIX) -- Do-it-yourselfers may want to reconsider those backyard renovation projects. The state has banned the disposal of a common building material and it is leaving homeowners and contractors with no place to dump it.

According to the Department of Toxic Substances Control:

"Treated wood waste comes from old wood that has been treated with chemical preservatives. These chemicals help protect the wood from insect attack and fungal decay while it's being used. Fence posts, sill plates, landscape timbers, pilings, guardrails, and decking, to name a few, are all examples of chemically treated wood."

Previously, the state provided a variance to allow landfills to accept treated wood waste. But, with the new year, that variance expired and now there appears to be no one in the Bay Area who can legally accept it.

"Now that they're closing up the dumps -- not allowing this stuff coming in anymore -- there's no place to dump," said Robert Bernsten, owner of Have Tools Will Travel Fencing.

Treated Wood Disposal Ban
Robert Berntsen, a fencing and deck contractor in Contra Costa County, points to a pile of treated wood scraps that he can't legally dispose of. (CBS)

That's a big problem for Berntsen, a fencing and deck contractor in East Contra Costa County. He's a relatively small operator but the wood scraps are already piling up at his Antioch home.

"All these small end pieces are just from the kicker boards and the tops of the 4x4s that I cut. Where do I bring it?" he asked.

The answer, according to the county's waste authority, is nowhere. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control says the wood contains toxic chemicals and cannot be burned, dumped or even left on the ground for more than 90 days. It can only be legally transported by a licensed toxic hauler and taken only to a Class One Toxic Waste Site or out of state. That's an untenable situation for Luis Rojas whose Bayside Fencing Co. collects about a dump-truck-load of treated wood waste every day.

"We need a solution for this, otherwise it might put some guys out of business, you know? This is the lumber that we use every day and this is the lumber that we're taking down from people's homes," Rojas said.

It's especially galling to contractors, because pressure-treated wood is still being widely sold at home improvement stores and lumber yards. It's about half the cost of redwood and is better at resisting rot when in contact with the ground.

"It's a great product but what do you do with the waste?" Roberts said.

The DTSC seems to be looking for an out, announcing they will offer short-term variances to waste facilities to give lawmakers a chance to craft a solution. Those may begin on March 1. Until then, though, the waste wood will continue to pile up, even as more and more of it is being sold.

A number of legislators are worried the ban will lead to illegal dumping and greater toxic exposure so they've introduced AB 332 as an emergency statute that would re-establish the previous disposal rules indefinitely.


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