Wood Institute Closes Doors

New York Times
Regional Newspapers
January 9, 2003

Wood Institute Closes Doors
The national trade group lays off all workers and gives up administrative duties

By GREG C. BRUNO

GAINESVILLE — American Wood Preservers Institute, the national trade association representing the pressure-treated wood industry, has laid off its employees and handed over administrative operations to a management firm, a letter from the group's president said.

The move comes amid mounting legal challenges from environmental and consumer protection groups, including a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of a Gainesville family last month to ban arsenic-treated wood from the consumer market.

"They have been active players for decades in stalling government regulation of these chemicals," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national advocacy group committed to pesticide safety and lead petitioner of last month's suit. "That has been their primary goal as an agency — to ward off government restrictions" for its members.

While AWPI was not named in the pesticide group's lawsuit, Feldman said other suits have targeted AWPI, and the layoffs suggest pressures to ban chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, have finally taken their toll on the woodpreserving industry.

"It sounds like they are giving up their lobbying function," he said.

Since 1921, the Wood Preservers Institute has represented pressure treaters, preservative manufacturers and various forest product associations. Established as the Service Bureau Board of the American Wood-Preservers Association, AWPI was incorporated as an independent nonprofit trade association in Illinois in 1958. Since 1996, the institute maintained its headquarters in Fairfax, Va.

In recent years, the industry has come under increasing pressure from environmentalists to abandon the use of preservatives like CCA, which contains arsenic, from the treatment of wood products.

In February, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced the wood industry's voluntary phaseout of CCA-treated wood from all residential uses by 2004.

The announcement, however, has not slowed the tide of lawsuits against the federal government or AWPI. The suit filed by the pesticides group in December alleges the EPA has known about the carcinogenic properties of CCA, but has failed to act.

In a letter to its members dated Dec. 13 and obtained by The Sun from Beyond Pesticides, AWPI President Parker Brugge said the group had been named as a defendant in nine recent lawsuits, resulting in a "very serious financial crisis."

In addition, "AWPI's insurance carriers' decisions not to fully participate in our defense" played a role in the group's layoff and management shuffles.

Since Jan. 1, operation and activities have been managed by Reston, Va.-based Drohan Management Group. A Drohan employee last week confirmed the managerial change.

Greg Bruno writes for The Gainesville Sun.

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