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Research into timber workers’ exposure to PCP

6 September 2004 Media Statement

Research into timber workers’ exposure to PCP

New research into the health of former timber workers exposed to pentachlorophenol (PCP) has been welcomed by Associate Labour Minister Ruth Dyson today.

The government is funding the $520,000 research project to be headed by Professor Neil Pearce of Massey University. His public health team will look into whether PCP exposure contributed to ill health among former timber workers.

The project will focus on whether workers exposed to PCP are dying earlier, getting cancer more often or, suffering more chronic health problems.

“Timber workers have lived with uncertainty for a long time. A number of former timber workers suffer from poor health that they believe was caused by exposure to PCP. This research will help to provide some certainty about the impact PCP exposure has had on their health,” Ruth Dyson said.

Former timber workers were exposed to PCP through its use as an anti-sapstain fungicide in sawmills. PCP was widely used in the New Zealand timber industry between the 1950s and the late 1980s as a method for preventing fungi from staining timber.

Workers involved in the treatment processes, or the subsequent handling of the treated timber, are known to have experienced significant exposure to PCP.

“Funding this work is important. It will help provide clarity around what has been a difficult issue, particularly for those former timber workers with health problems, and their families,” Ruth Dyson said.

The research project will run from April to December 2005 and will involve random samples from former timber workers.

Note: Brief question sheet attached.

When was PCP used?
From the 1950s through to the late 1980s pentachlorophenol (PCP) was widely used in the New Zealand timber industry.

What was it used for?
For most of this period it was used on nearly all freshly sawn timber produced in the country, predominantly radiata pine, and was routinely surface treated to prevent the proliferation of sapstain fungi. Sapstain fungus develops on the wood surface causing a blue-black discoloration to the wood.

How was it used?
The process involved dipping the timber in baths containing an aqueous solution of the sodium salt of PCP (NaPCP). In addition, pressure treatment with a PCP in oil mixture was used as an alternative to creosote as a preservative treatment.

How were workers exposed?
Workers involved in the treatment processes, or the subsequent handling of the treated timber, are known to have experienced significant exposure to PCP. Uptake was primarily through skin contact with PCP solutions or with the treated timber itself. The jobs with the potential for heavy exposure include the handling of the sludge formed in the bottom of dip tanks, and any process involving heating of PCP such as burning treated wood or welding structures, which had been contaminated with PCP.


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