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Poison Playgrounds-Children at Risk from Arsenic in Treated Wood
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service

Arsenic Risk in Children's Playground Equipment
September 17, 2001

Children are more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of arsenic from
play structures, picnic tables and decks than from drinking water
according to a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) study. "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 the lifetime cancer
risk considered acceptable under federal pesticide law." The report,
entitled "Poisoned Playgrounds," is based on analysis of data from 180
samples of treated wood taken across the U.S. and an extensive review of
scientific literature.

Virtually all of the lumber sold for outdoor use in the U.S. is
pressure-treated and injected with toxins that act as preservatives and
pesticides. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is the most common wood
preservative used in the U.S., containing 22% pure arsenic. Arsenic is
an acute poisoning hazard, can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer in
humans and is linked to diabetes and endocrine disruption. Children are
more susceptible than adults to the impacts of arsenic exposure since
their bodies are still developing, they absorb more pesticide per pound
of body weight and touch CCA-treated wood on a regular basis.

A 12-foot section of pressure-treated lumber contains about an ounce of
arsenic, or enough to kill 250 people. The U.S. wood products industry
is the world's largest consumer of the poison, using half of all arsenic
produced worldwide. Although arsenic is banned as a pesticide for
agriculture and food applications, wood treatment has a special
exemption under U.S. pesticide laws.

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 organisms through ingestion or absorption.

An EWG study of two play structures in Oakland, California, discovered
high levels of arsenic that could significantly increase a child's
lifetime risk of cancer. In Florida, dozens of public playgrounds were
closed following detection of high levels of arsenic. In response to
public concern, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently
proposed labeling all pieces of CCA-treated lumber and developing
in-store displays to tell consumers about the dangers associated with
the lumber. EPA is conducting a reassessment of CCA that will be
released for public review in 2002.

The Healthy Building Network-a coalition of builders, health advocates
and environmentalists-is petitioning the Consumer Product Safety
Commission (CPSC) for an outright ban on arsenic in lumber, urging
manufacturers and retailers to use alternative types of wood.

Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a California-based advocacy
group, has filed a legal notice to sue 11 U.S. manufacturers of
arsenic-treated wooden playground equipment. A successful lawsuit would
force manufacturers to either warn the public of risks pose by arsenic
or to stop using arsenic altogether.

To reduce children's exposure to arsenic in CCA-treated wood, avoid
eating on CCA-treated picnic tables or cover the table with a
plastic-coated tablecloth, seal CCA-treated wood structures annually
with polyurethane or other hard lacquer, use wood products that do not
contain arsenic for new construction and tell children to wash their
hands after playing on CCA-treated surfaces, particularly before eating.

Sources: Environmental Working Group "Poisoned Playgrounds," 2001,
available at;
Environmental Working Group Press Release, "Healthy Building Network,
Environmental Working Group, Petition Consumer Product Safety Commission

to Ban Sale of Arsenic-treated Lumber for Playgrounds," May 23, 2001;
MSNBC Your Environment, "Poisoned Playgrounds?," August 8, 2001;
Environmental Protection Agency Press Release, July 3, 2001.

Contacts: Environmental Working Group, 1904 Franklin St., Suite 515,
Oakland, CA 94612; phone (510) 444-0973; fax (510) 444-0982; email; Web site; or Center for Environmental
Health, 528 61st Street Suite A, Oakland, CA 94609; phone (510)
594-9864; fax (510) 594-9863; email; Web site

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and
reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the
mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North
America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to
advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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