8 February 2003
Report Says Wood Playsets Pose a Cancer Risk
By Jennifer Lee
Feb. 7 — Scientists at the Consumer Products Safety Commission
said today that children playing on millions of outdoor wood playground
sets nationwide face an increased risk of bladder and lung cancer
from arsenic exposure.
report recommends that children wash their hands after playing on
wooden playground sets and also not eat in the vicinity of the wood.
report is the first acknowledgment by the federal government that
there are health risks associated with pesticide-treated wood that
has been in wide use in residential settings such as playgrounds
and decks since the 1970's. Since the 1930's, residential wood has
commonly been treated with a pesticide, known as chromated copper
arsenate, or C.C.A., to prevent rotting. This pesticide contains
arsenic, a known carcinogen, which bleeds from the wood. Young children
can ingest the arsenic when they put their hands to their mouths
or when they touch food or toys which are then placed in their mouths.
study projects that between 2 to 100 children out of one million
will get bladder and lung cancer from their exposure to the arsenic.
Generally, the threshold of disease for government concern over
toxins is one in one million individuals being affected. The study
notes that cancer can take decades to develop, so it based its conclusions
on previous scientific studies of arsenic exposure.
important the government has said this because people need to know
their arsenic-treated playsets are hazardous for their children,"
said Richard Wiles, a spokesman for the Environmental Working Group,
an organization which has petitioned to ban the pesticide in the
have been environmental concerns about the pesticide since the mid-1980's.
At that time, the government considered banning the pesticide-treated
wood, but decided to allow industry to launch a consumer education
program on its risks.
year, the Environmental Protection Agency and companies reached
an agreement to phase out the pesticide-treated wood products by
the end of 2003. But the E.P.A. said it saw no need for consumers
to remove existing structures that used the wood. The agency is
conducting its own study on the risks associated with the wood.
commission's report was an internal study in response to a petition
on banning wooden playground sets by environmental groups in 2001.
The study will be among factors that will be considered by the three
commissioners at a March 12 hearing.
Consumer Products Safety Commission and the E.P.A. are jointly studying
various sealants to help mitigate the risks of arsenic exposure.
Stratton, the chairman of the safety commission, said that it would
weigh the different perspectives from industry and environmental
groups before making a decision on what to do about the playground
sets. This could range from recommending regular application of
sealant to removal of the existing playground sets.
decks generally are also treated with the pesticide. But, commission
scientists concentrated their warning on playground sets since they
are used by children.
sets that are sold in 2004 will not be at risk, because of the agreed
upon gradual phase-out of the pesticide wood. Some playground companies
are already using wood treated with arsenic-free preservatives.
In addition, some woods, such as redwood and cedar, are naturally
rot-resistant and are not treated with the pesticide. Playground
sets made of metal and plastic do not have any arsenic-based risks.
it is difficult to recognize wood treated with the arsenic-based
pesticide. The study recommends calling the manufacturers to check.
But because pesticide-treated wood was so popular, the study recommends
that consumers should assume the wood is pesticide-treated unless
they know otherwise.
commission recommends that consumers not burn the pesticide-treated
wood in open fires or in the furnace, as that releases arsenic into
air, water and soil. Instead, people should contact their local
E.P.A. office or local government to find out how to appropriately
dispose of the wood.