The most popular wood used for decks, gazebos, and playground equipment is treated with CCA, or chromated copper arsenate, to ward off termites and decay. But in reaction to environmental concerns, a self-imposed ban on CCA-treated wood will go into effect in January. "The ban is completely voluntary," says David Deegan, a spokesman for the EPA. Are concerns overblown, akin to the genetically modified food fears in Europe? "The EPA is in the midst of doing an updated risk assessment of this sort of wood product," says Deegan. The EPA's study should be released by the end of the year, he adds.

"This was an emotional and political issue based on almost no science," says Huck DeVenzio, marketing communications manager at Arch Wood Protection Inc., in Smyrna, Ga. Substitute treatments relying on copper-based preservatives are readily available, but cost about 15 percent more, he says. Builders of decks and porches might see the increased cost over time.

Because the move away from CCA -- instituted in February 2002 -- is voluntary, the transition should be orderly. The next generation of treated wood is a bit harsher on connectors, warns DeVenzio, so he recommends using hot-dipped galvanized fasteners and connectors. Wood that was treated before the end of this year can still be legally sold and used in recreational and residential areas, says the EPA's Deegan.