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Report Cites Danger of Arsenic in Wood

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, May 23, 2001

OAKLAND, May 23, 2001 - The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced today that it has filed legal notice to sue the manufacturers of wooden playground equipment treated with arsenic. The action follows the release of an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report that found children are much more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of arsenic from play structures, picnic tables and decks than from drinking water.

Earlier this month, CEH, an Oakland-based advocacy group, notified 11 U.S. manufacturers of arsenic-treated wooden playground equipment that unless state Attorney General Bill Lockyer intervenes within 60 days, it will sue under California's Proposition 65. A successful Proposition 65 lawsuit would force the manufacturers to either stop using arsenic or warn the public of the risks.

"Poisoned Playgrounds" by EWG and the Healthy Building Network (HBN), available at www.ewg.org, documents the nationwide evidence that arsenic-treated wood poses serious health risks to children and others exposed to it. In Washington today, HBN and EWG petitioned the Consumer Products Safety Commission to ban the use of arsenic-treated wood in playground equipment and conduct a new study of its safety for other uses.

"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, principal author of the report. "In two weeks, an average five-year-old playing on an arsenic-treated playset would exceed the lifetime cancer risk considered acceptable under federal pesticide law."

Arsenic, which is injected as a preservative and pesticide into almost all wood used outdoors, is an acute poisoning hazard but also a long-term cause of organ and skin cancer. Arsenic is banned for all other pesticide uses, but wood treatment is exempt from federal pesticide laws. Alternatives to arsenic treatment of wood are readily available, and in fact the same companies that sell arsenic-laced wood in the U.S. make safer products for the European market.

In preparation for a nationwide wood testing project to be completed this summer, EWG sampled play structures at two Oakland-area parks and found levels of arsenic that could significantly increase a child's lifetime risk of cancer. Arsenic can be absorbed from the wood through direct contact, or after the poison leaches into the surrounding soil or groundwater.

In recent months, dozens of public playgrounds in Florida have been closed after detection of high levels of arsenic. In Washington, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing last week to look at new evidence of serious health risks from very low levels of arsenic, and the EPA has ordered a fast-track review of the cancer risks of arsenic-treated wood.