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'People are gonna lose their jobs': Sask. company concerned after wood preservative discontinued

A Sask. wood preservation company fears it could be lights out for their business after Health Canada moves to ban a preservative. (Vermette Wood Preservers) A Sask. wood preservation company fears it could be lights out for their business after Health Canada moves to ban a preservative. (Vermette Wood Preservers)
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A 50-year-old Saskatchewan company is fearing for its future after a wood preservative has been discontinued in Canada.

Health Canada says it launched a special review of the preservative called pentachlorophenol in July 2020.

“In 2022, prior to completing the special review and publication of a final decision, the sole Canadian registrant of products containing pentachlorophenol notified Health Canada of their intention to discontinue the sale of all their registered products and requested a one-year phase-out period,” a spokesperson told CTV News in an email.

Health Canada said they cancelled the registration on October 4, 2022, allowing a year for companies using the product to pivot their businesses.

Something that Natalie Tarini, executive director of Wood Preservation Canada, said was an unrealistic timeline.

“In the US, not only does the treated wood industry have a longer phase-out deadline for Penta, they have two oil-borne alternatives that have been in use for over seven years,” she said in an email.

“Utility poles in Canada are largely Douglas Fir, which needs to be treated with an oil-borne pesticide in accordance with the governing CSA Standard. Contrary to what the (Pest Management Regulatory Agency/PMRA) may claim, there is no approved oil-borne alternative in Canada,” she said.

The decision is something that has one Saskatchewan company deeply concerned.

“My family is going to lose a 50-year-old business. We're 98 per cent Indigenous on site. And we're gonna lose, people are gonna lose their jobs,” CEO and President of Vermette Wood Preservers told CTV News.

“They indicated that, well you can use steel or you can use concrete. While, the cost of a steel pole, for example, the 40-foot pole, is $4,800. Probably seven times eight times more than a wooden pole.”

SASKPOWER CHALLENGES

A spokesperson for SaskPower said they rely on penta-treated products to prevent the wood from deterioration. They said there are over a million wood power poles in the province, and 800,000 of those are penta-treated.

“The cancellation of pentachlorophenol is something SaskPower is actively working to address, by finding suitable alternatives and reaching out to manufacturers to secure future supply chain options,” the spokesperson said in an email to CTV News.

The company says they have 20,000 penta-treated poles in reserve.

“SaskPower is in discussions with other Canadian utilities and federal counterparts to explore options as to how we could continue to use existing stock of pentachlorophenol-treated products in the short term.”

Poles that are already treated and in the ground are permitted to stay there, SaskPower said.

‘THIS TAKES TIME’

Vermette said that poles untreated with preservative last up to 10 years, whereas penta-treated poles can last over 50 years.

“There is a product coming up that is better than penta. The industry was moving towards it. But this takes time,” he said.

He said he would have liked Health Canada to give the industry more time to adapt.

“Extend the deadline from October 4, 2023, to say December 31 of 2025. All our penta would be used up and it would be in service in utility poles.”

It’s something Tarini said was not likely.

“After hearing concerns from the utilities and the treated wood industry, the penta registrant wrote the PMRA requesting an additional year to the phase-out deadline. This request was denied without viable rationale.” 

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