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Daily News Archive
From March 22, 2001

Bush Withdraws New Arsenic Standard as High Arsenic Levels Close Parks

The New York Times today reported that sections of three Miami-area parks were closed after researchers found that poisonous arsenic had leached into the soil from pressure-treated wood. The arsenic comes from the wood preservative chromated copper arsenate, which is injected into lumber to protect against termites, beetles and humidity. Parks typically use pressure-treated wood for benches, picnic tables and playground equipment.

A University of Miami and University of Florida study found an average of 28 ppb of arsenic in soil sampled from sites across the state, an amount in great excess of the 0.8 ppb level considered "safe" by EPA. Gainesville officials, in response to the study, said that they would immediately remove the wooden equipment and soil from a University of Florida childcare center.

This report followed on the heels of yesterday's announcement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to withdraw the Clinton administration approved new drinking-water regulation, which would have reduced the permissible standard for arsenic in drinking water by 80 percent, as reported by the New York Times. Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator, commented, "certainly the standard should be less than 50 ppb, but the scientific indicators are unclear as to whether the standard needs to go as low as 10ppb."

The wood products industry unsurprisingly supports the administrations ruling. Industry's trade association, the American Wood Preservers Institute's, spokesman Mel Pine commented, "We're very relieved and delighted about what we hear."

Chuck Fox, the ex-EPA official who helped draft the Clinton policy, was stunned by the announcement. "This action will jeopardize the health of millions of Americans, and it compromised literally a decade's worth of work on behalf of developing a public health standard."

A 1999 National Academy of Sciences study concluded that the current arsenic standard of 50 ppb "could easily" result in a 1-in-100 risk of cancer, and recommended that the acceptable levels be revised downwards "as promptly as possible." The Clinton administration approved 10 ppb standard is the same standard adopted by the European Union and World Health Organization several years ago.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology for March 1, 2001, a study conducted by National Taiwan University researcher in Taipei reported that exposure to arsenic in drinking water at levels of 10.1 ppb to 50 ppb nearly doubled cancer risk compared to the risk in the general population. Cancer risk elevated to about 8 times higher with arsenic levels between 50 ppb and 100 ppb, and were 15 times higher for people exposed to arsenic levels exceeding 100 ppb.

Arsenic is also an endocrine disruptor, interfering with the action of glucocorticoids, which belong to the same family of steroid hormones as estrogen and testosterone, and are responsible for turning on many genes that may suppress cancer and regulate blood sugar. Science News from March 17, 2001 reported that Alan R. Parrish of Texas A&M University in College station and his team of researchers observed hormone-disrupting effects using arsenic concentrations comparable to 10 ppb in water.

Beyond Pesticides' Poison Poles campaign focuses on the hazards associated with exposure to the three most commonly used wood preservatives, namely pentachlorophenol, CCA, and creosote. Many people have suffered as a result of exposure to these toxic chemicals. We are seeking a phase out of the use of these chemicals in utility poles, playground equipment, railroad ties, building materials, and other wood products in favor of alternative materials such as recycled steel, plastics, and concrete. Click here for more information about victims of exposure to wood preservatives.