Daily News Archive
From February 10, 2003

Government Study Finds Arsenic-Treated Wood Increases Cancer Risk in Children

On Friday, February 7, Chairman Hal Statton, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a scheduled Commission Briefing for March 12, 2003 to consider the petition to ban the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) pressure-treated wood in playground equipment. The staff will brief the Commissioners on the materials submitted in its briefing package and the Commissioners will hear from interested stakeholders.

In the report submitted to the Commissioners, CPSC scientists found that some children may face an increased risk of developing lung or bladder cancer over their lifetime from playing on playground equipment made from CCA pressure-treated wood. This risk is in addition to the risk of getting cancer due to other factors over one's lifetime.

Despite findings of increased lifetime cancer risk to children, the CPSC staff has recommended that the Commissioners defer action on the petition. The recommendation seeks to delay any action pending finalization of the agreement between CCA manufacturers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out CCA treatment of wood for most consumer uses by the end of 2003. EPA expects to finalize this agreement in the near future, but no definitive date was given. EPA is conducting a study of the risks, which may be associated with CCA-treated wood. EPA's report is expected later this year. In addition, the EPA and CPSC staffs plan to conduct a study to determine effective measures of reducing the amount of arsenic released from CCA treated wood.

There are many risk factors that contribute to a person's risk for developing cancer over their lifetime such as environment, genetics, diet, and behaviors such as smoking. The staff maintains that an individual child's risk from arsenic in CCA-treated playground equipment will vary depending on many factors. Those include the amount of arsenic released from the CCA-treated wood, the amount of arsenic picked up on the hands, the number of days and years the child plays on the wood, and the amount of arsenic transferred to the mouth by hand-to-mouth activity. The staff considered these types of exposures in calculating the increased lifetime risk of developing lung or bladder cancer.

CPSC staff states this increased risk to children is primarily due to exposure to arsenic residue on children's hands followed by hand-to-mouth contact. The report says transfer of the arsenic from the hand to the mouth can occur during and after playing on pressure-treated wood playground equipment.

To minimize the risk of exposure to arsenic from CCA-treated playground equipment, the staff recommends that parents and caregivers thoroughly wash children's hands with soap and water immediately after playing on CCA pressure-treated wood playground equipment. In addition, the staff recommends that children not eat while on CCA-treated wood playground equipment. Arsenic occurs naturally in the air, soil, water, and in some foods.

In the summer of 2002, the state of New York proactively banned the use of all arsenic based wood preservatives in public playground equipment due to increased risk to children. Several playground companies have already begun to use wood treated with arsenic-free preservatives. In addition, playground structures can be made of other materials that don't contain arsenic, such as naturally rot-resistant wood (redwood and cedar), metal, plastic, and composite materials. All of these materials could be used for new construction. To reduce arsenic leaching from wood treated with CCA seal with oil-based penetrating stain. For optimum results this process should be repeated every two years.

More information about arsenic treated wood can be found at www.beyondpesticides.org or consumers may obtain a fact sheet on the findings of the Commission staff at the CPSC web site or by calling the CPSC hotline at 800-638-CPSC (2772).