Healthy Building Network, Environmental Working Group Petition Consumer Product Safety Commission to Ban Sale of Arsenic-Treated

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Washington, May 23, 2001 - The Healthy Building Network (HBN) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban arsenic-treated wood in playground equipment and to review its safety for use in other consumer items. The petition was sent in conjunction with the groups' release of their report, "Poisoned Playgrounds: Arsenic in Pressure Treated Wood."

Virtually all of the lumber sold for outdoor use in the U.S. is pressure-treated and injected with toxins to preserve the wood and prevent bugs. The most common wood preservative and pesticide used for this purpose is chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which is 22 percent pure arsenic. A 12-foot section of pressure-treated lumber contains about an ounce of arsenic, or enough to kill 250 people. The U.S. wood products industry is the world's largest consumer of the poison, using half of all arsenic produced worldwide. Arsenic is banned for all agricultural and food uses, but it has a specific exemption for use in wood under the federal pesticide law.

"We know that arsenic in drinking water is dangerous for children, 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 less than 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."

Paul Bogart of the Healthy Building Network added, "Today we are asking the Bush Administration to take action, but we are not waiting for them to act. Our website provides the public with some basic tools and information, so that ultimately companies like Lowes and Home Depot will be compelled to stop selling arsenic wood and start stocking the arsenic-free products."

Earlier this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered a fast-track review of cancer risk from arsenic-treated wood. The agency has not said when the risk assessment will be made public.

In addition to the CPSC petition asking for an outright ban, HBN and EWG are urging retailers and playground equipment manufacturers to switch to alternative types of wood. For now, among the things consumers can do to reduce the risk of arsenic from pressure-treated wood:

  • Seal arsenic-treated wood structures every year with polyurethane or other hard lacquer
  • Don't let children eat at arsenic-treated picnic tables, or at least cover the table with a coated tablecloth
  • Make sure children wash their hands after playing on arsenic-treated surfaces, particularly before eating.