Heavy-duty wood treatment chemicals are among the deadliest chemicals in wide use. Pentachlorophenol (penta) is one such chemical that, despite being banned in 26 countries as a probable carcinogen, U.S. company’s use to protect wood products from insects, microorganisms, and decay.

In 2002, NELC filed suit against Bellingham, WA-based Oeser Company, a wood treater that used penta despite the availability of safer alternatives. Our lawsuit charged Oeser with exceeding its Clean Water Act permit limits for penta, and discharging the chemical into Little Squalicum Creek just before it runs through a public park where children play. After a site visit, NELC amended the compliant against Oeser to add a claim under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), alleging that the company was also depositing penta directly onto its treatment area and storage yard in violation of RCRA’s ban on land disposal of untreated hazardous wastes.

Mindful that Oeser is a small company already facing significant financial liability, NELC negotiated a consent decree that required Oeser to devote its limited resources to on-site improvements rather than monetary penalties. Under that decree, Oeser hired professional engineering consultants to identify sources of penta in Oeser’s discharge, investigate options for reducing penta contamination, and develop and implement a long-term plan to ensure compliance with federal clean water and hazardous waste laws.