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Environmental Assessment

Investigation of the Potential Release of Polychlorinated Dioxins and Furans from PCP-Treated Utility Poles

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The United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the use of technical grade pentachlorophenol (PCP) between 1970 and 1995 to treat wood was approximately 400,000 metric tons in the US, and that between 4,800 and 36,000 grams of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin toxic equivalents (TEQs) were incorporated annually in treated wood. EPA has been unable, however, to estimate the rate of release of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (CDD/Fs) from treated utility poles into the environment. There is some evidence that CDD/Fs leach from treated poles into the surrounding soils, but these studies do not allow for the calculation of a rate of release from this mechanism. Another possible release mechanism is the volatilization of dioxins into the atmosphere, but there is no data to demonstrate, much less quantify, this release. While not directly measuring the release of dioxins from treated utility poles into the environment, this study was designed to examine the potential for such release. The general approach taken was to collect PCP-treated poles of varying ages, to remove and analyze multiple samples from each pole cross section, and to compare the spatial distribution of CDD/F congeners among poles of different ages. Evidence of concentration-depth profile changes over time may provide insight into the potential for dioxins to migrate through and then out of PCP-treated utility poles. It was found that the CDD/F concentrations were consistently higher in the outer portions of the poles than the center. This trend tends to be most marked in older poles and for the lower chlorinated congeners. The trend for dioxins to concentrate in the outer portions of the pole over time suggest migration within the poles, and this migration may result in some environmental release. Other possible explanations were also offered.

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Additional Information

The full paper is available in the Downloads section. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier Science. Please see, www.elsevier.com/locate/scitotenv


Lorber, M., R. G. Barton, D. L. Winters, K. M. Bauer, M. Davis, AND J. Palausky. Investigation of the Potential Release of Polychlorinated Dioxins and Furans from PCP-Treated Utility Poles. Science of the Total Environment 290:15-39, (2002).

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