Daily News Archive
From September 18, 2001

Arsenic Risk Upped in Playground Equipment

Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their report Poison Playgrounds, an analysis of data from 180 samples of treated wood taken across the US and an extensive review of scientific literature. They found that children are more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of arsenic from play structures, picnic tables and decks than from drinking water. "We know that arsenic in drinking water is dangerous for kids, but what we found was that the arsenic in lumber is an even greater risk," said EWG analyst Renee Sharp. "In less than ten days, an average five year old playing on an arsenic-treated playset would exceed then lifetime cancer risk considered acceptable under federal pesticide law."

Almost all lumber sold for outdoor use in the US is pressure treated and injected with pesticides and preservatives. Copper chromated arsenic (CCA) is the most common wood preservative used in the US, and contains 22% pure arsenic. Lab and field studies show that potentially hazardous amounts of arsenic leach out of CCA-treated wood, potentially contaminating groundwater and soil, and infiltrating living things through ingestion.

Arsenic is an acute poisoning hazard, can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer in humans, and is linked to diabetes and endocrine disruption. A 12-foot section of pressure-treated wood contains about an ounce of arsenic - enough to kill 250 people. Children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of arsenic exposure since their bodies and organ systems are still developing, and they absorb more pesticides per body weight.

Arsenic is banned as a pesticide for agricultural and food applications, but has a special exemption for wood treatment under US pesticide laws.