8 February 2003
Studying Cancer Risk of Play Sets
Caroline E. Mayer and Martha McNeil Hamilton
Consumer Product Safety Commission is entering the long-running
debate about the health dangers of playground equipment made of
pressure-treated wood -- a product that is being phased out because
of concerns it can leach arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
agency yesterday released a staff study of 12 playgrounds in the
Washington area. It concluded that children who play on equipment
made of wood treated with chromated copper arsenate could face an
increased risk of developing lung or bladder cancer over their lifetime.
staff also recommended, however, that the commission take no action
until the Environmental Protection Agency completes a major study
of the issue. A preliminary risk assessment is expected to be available
for public comment in three to four months, officials said.
EPA reached an agreement a year ago to phase out use of the preservative
in new wood products by the beginning of next year. The preservative
has been the principle chemical used on decks, playgrounds, picnic
tables and similar outdoor structures.
EPA has said that there is no reason to remove or replace existing
structures. Yesterday's report from the product safety agency represents
the first time a federal agency has concluded that there is a heightened
danger for children using playground equipment made of pressure-treated
wood. The commission staff concluded that two to 100 children in
a million would have an increased risk.
commission staff's conclusion could put pressure on the EPA to take
are obviously going to take a look at what the CPSC has come up
with," said EPA spokesman Joseph J. Martyak. In doing its risk
assessment, he noted, the EPA is following a process of independent
scientific peer review recommended by the agency's scientific advisory
conducting its study, the safety commission tested 12 playgrounds
and eight decks in the Washington area to determine how much arsenic
comes off treated wood and onto the hands during play. It considered
how often children put their hands in their mouths, as well as how
frequently and how long a child may use a playground. The work was
reviewed by independent scientists, the commission said.
staff published its finding late yesterday as commission Chairman
Harold Stratton announced a March 12 hearing on its recommendations.
Stratton noted that children's risk can be reduced by washing hands
with soap and water immediately after playing on the treated wood.
The staff also recommends that children avoid eating on playgrounds
that contain the equipment.
commission staff was responding to a petition from the nonprofit
research organization Environmental Working Group, which sought
a ban on existing playground equipment.