Watch out! There's a new plague on wooden playgrounds. Here in rainy Florida, some news channel started testing playground dirt for arsenic seeping out of CCA treated wood in the wooden playgrounds. Now wooden playgrounds all over the state are being closed off and probably soon will be ripped up. CCA treated wood has been banned in several countries, but has been used for 60 years in the US.

Meanwhile, we're waiting on a report from the EPA on exactly how dangerous this stuff is. I suppose it is pollution, but can you be harmed by it unless you eat dirt? (Someone in the news mumbled something about absorbing it through the skin, but this has been refuted by experts.)

At least one county has blown off this whole scare, saying that they re-seal all their wood every year, so the arsenic doesn't leach out at their parks anyway.

Several companies are scrambling to ship in pressure treated wood that is not arsenic based. Time will only tell if this latest safety panic will blow over or if they will rip out the playgrounds and replace them with new wood, or if the march of the plastic playgrounds is coming.


PS: I too remember the metal playgrounds. They had a different flavor, but were just as fun as the wood ones. A mix is nice.


July 12: The EPA is still dragging its feet, and says they might not have a report ready for two or three months or more. Meanwhile, several counties have decided not to wait for their report. Each city & county seems to be handling it differently: (list sumamrized from today's paper)

  • Lake: waiting for the EPA's report; parks still closed
  • Orlando: replacing soil and equipment
  • Tavares: replaced soil, applied sealant
  • Volusia: retested; they claim their parks don't have that much arsenic
September 26: Several more cities have replaced their CCA wood, with metal and plastic, a few with more wood. Many playgrounds have simply been closed, and nothing else has been done.

The EPA has decided to randomly sample the dirt in playgrounds across the country. We're still waiting for their report.

November 10 EPA has said their report may not be out until spring. Congress has passed a bill requiring them to report by Feburary 15. Meanwhile, about 20 playgrounds around the state of Florida remain closed.

An alarmist advocacy group called the Environmental Working Group wiped random wooden playgrounds with damp polyester and then sent the samples to government labs which found alarming amounts of arsenic. Their conclusion: 1 in 500 children risk bladder cancer later in lfe. My conclusion: you should wash your hands before you eat if you touch CCA treated wood.

December 13 The EPA has released a preliminary report suggesting that playgrounds can reduce arsnic leaching by 90% by painting CCA treated wood with polyurethane paint regularly. Hmm, where have I heard that before? They say they'll release their final report after further consideration.

February 17, 2002 Nine months after the original CCA lumber news panic, the EPA has finally given us a ruling on arsenic treated lumber. In summary:

  • CCA treated wood is dangerous enough to discontinue its manufacture by 2003, and discontinue new use by 2004.
  • It is not dangerous enough to recommend removing it from existing structures in back yards, campgrounds, decks, etc. or replacing contaminated dirt, as absorption of inorganic arsenic directly through the skin is minimal, and absorption from dirt even less. (Arsenic dissolved in water is much more toxic, and not that uncommon in drinking water considered safe.)
  • The EPA recommends that children wash their hands after playing on CCA treated playgrounds and food should not come in direct contact with CCA treated wood.
  • They recommend wearing dust masks, gloves, and goggles when sawing and sanding CCA lumber, as inhalation is the most likely way for arsenic to enter the body from CCA wood.
  • CCA treated wood should never be burned in open fires.
  • Coatings may help reduce CCA leaching from the wood, and should be applied on a regular basis. The EPA recommends penetrating coatings (oils and transparent stains) over films such as latex and opaque stains, as the latter may peel off over time.
  • New construction and repairs should consider non-CCA alternatives.
Their study is still not done--and probably will not be done for years to come. They say that they have not found unreasonable danger from CCA, but believe that "reduction in exposure to arsenic is desirable".