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E-M:/ Arsenic-Treated Wood

For Immediate Release: May 23, 2001

Contacts: Mary Beth Doyle, Ecology Center (734) 663-2400 ext. 108
Dave Dempsey, Michigan Environmental Council (517) 487-9539
Cyndi Roper, Clean Water Action (231) 861-0950
Bill Walsh, Healthy Buildings Network (202) 232-4108


A petition was filed today with the Consumer Product Safety Commission requesting the prohibition of arsenic-treated wood in playground structures. Over 20 organizations representing more than 300 grassroots groups nationwide, including three in Michigan -- Clean Water Action, the Ecology Center, and the Michigan Environmental Council -- have endorsed this petition. The petition coincided with the release of the report, "Poisoned Playgrounds: Arsenic in Pressure Treated Wood."

Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a mixture of chromium, copper and arsenic. The risks associated with CCA stem from arsenic exposure. When ingested or inhaled arsenic is readily taken up by the body. But people may be completely unaware of their exposure since this toxic metal is tasteless, colorless and odorless. Arsenic causes a wide range of adverse health effects ranging from nerve damage, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea and the decreased production of red blood cells to cancer. Just an ounce of arsenic is enough to kill 250 adults.

Numerous recent studies have spurred the groups to push for a ban on CCA. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the midst of fast-tracking a review of cancer risks from arsenic-treated wood. Clean Water Action, Ecology Center and the Michigan Environmental Council joined with the Healthy Building Network, the Environmental Working Group and other organizations to urge the Bush Administration to immediately suspend the use of arsenic-based wood treatment compounds in wooden playground equipment, and to review the safety of its use in other products.

CCA is the most common wood preservative and pesticide used in the United States.  It has been banned for use as a wood preservative by several other countries. In the U.S., however, CCA is still the most common chemical used to produce “pressure-treated” lumber. The industry’s own estimate of arsenic used for wood products since 1964 is 550 million pounds, enough to contaminant the Great Lakes to 10 micrograms per liter.
“As a parent, I was outraged to learn that the play set we purchased for our children -- then 18 months and 4 years of age -- was treated with CCA,” stated Michigan Clean Water Action’s Cyndi Roper. Roper was appointed earlier this week as the public interest representative serving on EPA’s 16-member national committee that will be reviewing the costs of implementing the nation’s arsenic in drinking water standard. She continued: “We spend a great deal of time educating ourselves about household purchases but this one caught us off guard and we are sickened by it. Who expects that their children will be poisoned by their play equipment? We certainly did not.”

"We should eliminate every possible source of arsenic exposure for Michigan children.” Stated Dave Dempsey of the Michigan Environmental Council.  “This toxic metal poses health risks to kids that are simply intolerable. Let's get it out of our drinking water and out of our playgrounds."

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that they may be exposing their children to unacceptable levels of arsenic when they take them to the playground to play,” said Mary Beth Doyle of the Ecology Center.  “Children acting like children--climbing on playground equipment, playing in the dirt and putting their hands to their mouths–should not be at risk of arsenic poisoning.”

"We know that arsenic in drinking water is bad for children, but what we found was that the arsenic in lumber is even more of a risk," said EWG Analyst Renee Sharp. "In less than ten days an average five year old playing on an arsenic-treated play set would exceed the lifetime cancer risk considered acceptable under federal pesticide law."

Actions consumers can immediately take to reduce the risk of arsenic from pressure-treated wood include:
•Seal CCA-treated wood structures every year with polyurethane or other hard lacquer
•Don't let children eat at CCA-treated picnic tables, or at a minimum cover the table with a coated tablecloth
•Make sure children wash their hands after playing on CCA-treated surfaces, particularly before eating.         
A consumers’ guide to arsenic-free playground equipment and an arsenic free Lumber Locator so that consumers can protect themselves and their families, and pressure those companies who refuse to provide arsenic-free pressure treated wood are available at the following website <www.healthybuilding.net>