Playground fun is a must have experience of summer. However, your child’s fun may be secretly affected if he’s playing on arsenic-treated playground equipment. From the 1970’s until 2003, a lot of the wood for playground equipment, decks, picnic benches and more, was pressure-treated with a preservative containing toxic arsenic.

Arsenic exposure is linked to oodles of awfully un-fun stuff like nerve damage, immune diseases, reproductive hazards, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, changes in hormone function and skin, bladder, liver and lung cancers. Arsenic exposure also disrupts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is vital for normal body functions and can result in a weakened immune system along with weak liver function and bowel disease. Worse, while arsenic may leave your body, it may stick around instead. Arsenic has been known to remain in the body where it’s stored and then transported around your system, eventually affecting internal organs and your hair, nails, and skin.

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Is Arsenic a Legal Wood Treatment?

Arsenic truly does act as a good wood preservative, so it makes sense that companies used to use it in their wood products. In the 1970s no one knew that arsenic, while functional, was and is a deadly poison and a known carcinogen. By 2004 the health implications of arsenic were clearer and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned companies from manufacturing or selling arsenic-treated wood for most residential uses. That said, while arsenic has now been banned, the EPA didn’t go around and pull all arsenic treated wood from local playgrounds, or tell consumers to get rid of their decks, which means your child can still be exposed.

If you have a wooden deck, wooden patio furniture or a play area for your kids that was purchased before 2004 it could easily contain arsenic. The same goes for playground equipment at established older parks. According to Healthy Building Network, decks, boat docks, building foundations, picnic tables, and other outdoor wood products made before 2004 may contain arsenic as well.

Protect Your Child From Arsenic Dangers

Order an arsenic testing kit from the Safe Playgrounds Project, which allows you to test the wood you already have. If you have arsenic treated wood at home, you should consider getting rid of it as directed below. When purchasing new wooden outdoor products buy products made after 2004 and make sure you get untreated wood that’s naturally rot resistant like cedar and redwood or choose a non-wood alternative like metal or composite materials.

If you can’t afford to replace your older wooden outdoor products and if you don’t want to ban your child from local, older playgrounds, take these other steps to protect your child from arsenic.

  • Wood products are costly. If you can only afford to replace some wood, replace the wood products that your family is in contact with the most, such as the hand rails on your deck.
  • Covering older wood with paint or sealant can reduce exposure. Seal wood with penetrating deck treatment, latex paint, or polyurethane annually.
  • Never clean wood with a power pressure cleaner. Basically that’s akin to blasting arsenic right off wood and into your air and nearby soil.
  • Don’t sand arsenic treated wood.
  • After your kids play at the park, make sure they wash up. Research shows that the simple act of washing will remove arsenic residue from hands.
  • Avoid eating at older picnic tables. Even if you seal the wood or use a tablecloth, the risk for exposure is simply too great. You don’t want to mix arsenic and food.
  • Don’t allow kids to play in the soil or sand below or around arsenic-treated wood structures.
  • Never burn arsenic-treated, or chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated wood to get rid of it. Burning releases the arsenic into the air and just one tablespoon of ash from a CCA wood fire contains a lethal does of arsenic – so if your kids or a clean-up crew came into contact with it, they could be seriously hurt. The EPA notes, “Homeowners should never burn CCA-treated wood or use it as compost or mulch. CCA-treated wood can be disposed of with regular municipal trash (i.e., municipal solid waste, not yard waste). Homeowners should contact the appropriate state and local agencies for further guidance on the disposal of CCA-treated wood.

+ Learn more about treated playground equipment (pdf)

+ The Safe Playgrounds Project

Images: subewl, choogie