Wood woes

July 1, 2004
AS arcane as it sounds, some light-duty trailer manufacturers can blame Emmy Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim or at least her TV character for their

AS arcane as it sounds, some light-duty trailer manufacturers can blame Emmy Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim — or at least her TV character — for their most recent woes.

Manheim plays defense attorney Ellenor Frutt on ABC's The Practice. In an October 2000 episode, Frutt argued that three children's neurological diseases were due to a playset made from wood treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), the preservative used in most pressure-treated lumber. The jury ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency, even though in real life the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Consumer Reports magazine found no evidence that normal exposure to CCA-treated wood presented an increased health risk.

It didn't take long for litigious opportunists to cash in — about four months. In February 2001, the first lawsuit was filed by a man who bought lumber at The Home Depot and Lowe's, built a deck, and claimed his children got sick from the inorganic arsenic content.

The EPA reacted by requiring lumber companies to put warning tags on their products. A year later, the chemical companies approached the EPA, offering alternatives to CCA. The EPA wanted chemical companies to stop supplying CCA to companies that treat wood — and lumber companies to stop producing CCA-treated wood — within one year. The chemical companies argued for three years. They settled for 18 months.

And so, on January 1, 2004, lumber companies could not offer CCA-treated lumber — with the two most common replacements being Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ) and Copper Azole Borate (CAB).

As a result, trailer manufacturers have seen their wood costs skyrocket by as much as 40% — like they needed any more production-cost increases in the wake of the steel fiasco. According to Jim Hale, executive director of the Wood Preservative Science Council, ACQ is 15% to 20% more expensive than CCA due to higher manufacturing and transportation costs, but ACQ-treated wood is still about half the cost of cedar or redwood.

“It would be a lot cheaper if we could go back to CCA,” says Vince Driver of Circle D Corp in Hillsboro, Kansas, which manufacturers flatbeds and livestock and horse trailers. “It would drop our costs 25%. The price really jumped when we were forced to go with the new wood. We've increased prices due to that and to the steel issue.”

Jim Kelly, general manager of Big Tex Trailers in Mt Pleasant, TX, says ACQ-treated lumber is costing 40% more, but the company has not raised prices other than an 8% surcharge that is due totally to the steel issue.

“You can't keep whacking them up any time you get a price increase,” he says.

Corrosive qualities

Worse yet, some trailer manufacturers are concerned that the new lumber has more corrosive qualities than the CCA-treated lumber.

“Both of the products (ACQ and CAB) have a high level of copper, which, from my understanding, causes a bimetal reaction when it comes in contact with some types of metal,” says Paul Radjenovich of Felling Trailers of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, which manufactures 3,000 trailers a year — primarily flatbeds. “Reaction times will vary, depending on a variety of factors such as what type of metal the lumber is in contact with, environmental factors such as moisture, ocean salt, snow melt salt.

“What we don't know, and what we are most concerned about, is, what will the cross members of the trailer frame look like five or 10 years from now after having green-treated decking sitting on them? Is there a barrier we can use to go between the metal and the lumber that will protect the metal from corrosion?”

Radjenovich says the new treated wood should not be in contact with aluminum — but according to treated wood.com, the old CCA-treated wood should not have been either.

So what can be done?

Treatedwood.com says “hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners and fittings are acceptable for use with ACQ-treated wood. Direct contact of treated wood with aluminum fasteners and fittings is not recommended.”

“I don't take that statement as saying that this wood is going to eat away a 3/16" screw,” says Big Tex's Kelly. “It's not like this is going to eat this screw away in a month.”

According to timberlinemag.com — the online newspaper for the forest products industry — “the building industry recommends using more expensive stainless steel or hot-dipped galvanized fasteners with ACQ-treated lumber. Hot-dipped fasteners also are subject to corrosion, but not as fast as the electroplated screws.” It says that Stanley-Bostitch's new Thickcoat galvanized fastener has more than 2½ times more zinc than electroplated screws, with chromate and polymer coatings added for extra strength. It differs from hot-tip galvanization, which involves dipping a fastener in molten zinc, producing a porous, non-uniform zinc coating.

Treatedwood.com says, “As a minimum requirement for use with treated wood, hot-dip galvanized coated fasteners should conform to ASTM Standard 153 and hot-dip galvanized coated connectors should conform to ASTM Standard A653 (Class G-185). For optimum performance and longevity in treated wood, fasteners and connectors fabricated from stainless steel should be considered. Other types of screws and connectors coated with proprietary anti-corrosion technologies are also available for use with treated wood. Consult individual fastener manufacturer's recommendations for information about the performance of their products with treated wood.”

G-185 fasteners

Linda Priddy, national account and sales manager for Curt Bean Lumber in Glenwood, Arkansas, says the G-185 fasteners have three coats of zinc and are a substantial improvement over the G-60s.

“We in the treated industry sat back fat, dumb, and happy and thought that when we told people years ago to use hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel, that that's what they were using,” she says. “But when I went out a couple of years ago to do seminars, we found out they weren't, and it was still forgiving and worked fine. But when they try to use it with the new wood, it ate the wood up.”

Circle D's Driver says he's not concerned because his company's trailers are strictly steel and the cross members are all primed before the wood is put on, even on flatbed and stock trailers.

Kelly says he's not concerned at all.

“When we first started using ACQ, I went into the Web sites and started bringing it up to others and asking questions,” he says. “The only thing I found was that ACQ is less tolerant to steel screws. What does that mean? Does it mean they're not going to last 10 years, and they're only going to last eight? Nobody knows. We're not concerned right now. We're putting the boards on just like we used to. I figure that the wood would be rotted by the time it rots that steel out. I don't know of anybody who is even talking about putting a barrier (between the wood and the cross members).”

NATM's input

Because the issue is in its infancy, the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers is still developing a game plan.

NATM consulting engineer Dick Klein says he knows of no tests that have been run, “but there are a lot of guys who are very worried about their planking coming up after a few years.” He adds that trailer manufacturers will have to “find the type of fasteners that work. Either that or they're probably going to have to use bigger fasteners and not worry about it. I don't think anybody knows what the corrosive properties are, other than that they're corrosive. It's probably a certain number of years under certain conditions.”

He says he is relieved that CCA-treated plywood is still permitted as flooring and siding in trailer interiors. Based on the back-and-forth discussions between the American Wood Preservers Association and the EPA, he had doubts that it would happen. But he recently received clarification that it is permissible.

Commercial applications

He says he's still not sure why dimensional lumber for flatbeds can't be CCA-treated. He doesn't know how it got lumped into the residential-applications category (along with fencing, decks, picnic tables, playground equipment, and other construction projects that come into regular human contact in residential areas) that now can't use CCA-treated lumber, and why it isn't in the commercial-applications category (docks in salt or brackish water, boat construction, shakes and shingles, plywood flooring, laminated beams, highway barriers, agricultural timbers, and poles) that can still use it.

“The government works in strange ways,” he says. “I have no idea. Maybe they figure kids are going to chew on flatbed trailers. I can understand the change for playgrounds, but not this.”

Priddy recommends that trailer manufacturers contact Connie Welch of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs/Antimicrobial Division to lodge a complaint (703-308-8218 or [email protected]).

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.