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Title: Assessment of the environmental effects associated with wooden bridges preserved with creosote, pentachlorophenol, or chromated copper arsenate

Author: Brooks, Kenneth M.;


Source: (Research paper FPL ; RP-587):100 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.

Publication Series: Research Paper (RP)

Description: Timber bridges provide an economical alternative to concrete and steel structures, particularly in rural areas with light to moderate vehicle traffic. Wooden components of these bridges are treated with chromated copper arsenate type C (CCA), pentachlorophenol, or creosote to prolong the life of the structure from a few years to many decades. This results in reduced transportation infrastructure costs and increased public safety. However, the preservative used to treat the wooden components in timber bridges is lost to the environment in small amounts over time. This report describes the concentration of wood preservatives lost to adjacent environments and the biological response to these preservatives as environmental contaminants. Six bridges from various states were examined for risk assessment: two creosote treated bridges, two pentachlorophenol- treated bridges, and two CCA-treated bridges. In all cases, the largest bridges located in biologically active environments associated with slow- flowing water were selected to represent worst-case analyses. Sediment and water column concentrations of preservative were analyzed upstream from, under, and downstream from each bridge. The observed levels of contaminant were compared with available regulatory standards or benchmarks and with the quantitative description of the aquatic invertebrate community sampled from vegetation and sediments. Pentachlorophenol- and creosote-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were not observed in the water near any of the selected bridges. However, low levels of PAHs were observed in the sediments under and immediately downstream from these bridges. Pentachlorophenol concentrations did not approach toxicological benchmarks. Sediment concentrations of naphthalene, acenaphthylene, and phenanthrene exceeded the probable effect level. Metal levels at the bridges treated with CCA were less than predicted effect levels, in spite of questionable construction practices. Adverse biological effects were not observed in the aquatic invertebrate community or laboratory bioassays conducted on water and sediments sampled at each of the bridges. Results of this study reveal the need to follow the construction information found in Best Management Practices for the Use of Treated Wood In Aquatic Environments published by Western Wood Preservers Institute. Regulatory benchmarks used in risk assessments of this type need to be indexed to local environmental conditions. The robust invertebrate communities associated with slow-moving streams over soft bottoms were not susceptible to the concentrations of PAHs that would be expected to affect more sensitive taxa, which typically are located in faster moving water over hard bottoms. Contaminants released from timber bridges into these faster systems (where more sensitive taxa are located) are significantly diluted and not found at biologically significant levels.

Keywords: Bridges, Structural timbers, Wood preservatives, Creosote, Copper chrome arsenates, Pentachlorophenol, Environmental impact

Publication Notes:

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Brooks, Kenneth M. Assessment of the environmental effects associated with wooden bridges preserved with creosote, pentachlorophenol, or chromated copper arsenate. (Research paper FPL ; RP-587):100 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.


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