Kids may be exposed to arsenic-treated wood on playgrounds, according to a new study from Tulane University’s Center for Bioenvironmental Research.
Arsenic, which can cause both short- and long-term health effects such as cancer, is applied to old-style pressure-treated wood to limit deterioration from rot and insects.
ScienceNews reported that 36 percent of the sites tested by the researchers with a portable X-ray fluorescence instrument were found to contain arsenic in the soil. Though the pilot study only examined 38 playgrounds, the survey spanned the entire New Orleans metropolitan area.
“The irony is that if you want to find arsenic in soil, go to a child’s play area with wood structures,” said Howard Mielke, one of the researchers involved in the study.
The scientists even found arsenic levels in an elementary school that, though it had no pressure-treated wood structures, had used treated wood chips to cushion the area around slides, swings and other equipment where children might fall.
Though the study is limited in scope, Mielke predicts the arsenic hazard could easily turn up in other parts of the nation as well, especially since that particular type of treated lumber was the preferred wood for decades to make things like play structures, picnic tables and other commonly used structures.
“I would expect to see it all over the country,” he said.
According to the EPA, pressure-treated wood containing CCA, or chromated copper arsenate, is no longer being produced for use in most residential settings, including decks and playsets.
There are organizations dedicated to the complete ban of CCA-treated wood, such as BANCAA.org, which provides information on the continuing controversy over CCA-treated lumber and its health hazards.
Despite the movement, “We have an enormous amount [of wood] that is still out there,” said Mielke.
“The take-home message is that there needs to be a much larger emphasis on the quality of play areas for children,” said Mielke. In this study, where arsenic was found, “78 percent of the soil samples were greater than the state standard. That makes it worthwhile surveying play areas, generally, for this problem.”