Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



Reuters Health
17 March 2003

Groups ask for US ban on arsenic in playsets

By Todd Zwillich

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Consumer and environmental groups on Monday asked the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban the use of pressure-treated wood in children's playsets because of fear that the arsenic used in the wood's production can elevate the risk of cancer.

The groups called on the commission to ban playsets made from wood containing chromated copper arsenate (CCA), an arsenic-containing pesticide commonly used in weather-proof wood for playgrounds, decks and home construction.

They also asked the three-member commission to order the recall of thousands of public playsets made from wood containing CCA and to order the industry to reimburse consumers who purchased home playsets.

As many as 400,000 pressure-treated wood playsets were sold annually during the 1990s, according to CPSC estimates. Consumer groups have worried that arsenic-containing residue from the wood can rub off on children's hands while they are at play and then leach into the skin or be ingested when children's hands come into contact with their mouths.

Arsenic is a known cancer-causing chemical. It has been linked to an increased risk of lung, bladder and skin cancer.

According to the CPSC, children between the ages of 2 and 6 who play on CCA-treated playsets three times per week face an increased risk of cancer. The commission estimated this risk at 2 to 100 per million children greater than for children who don't play on CCA-treated equipment.

Consumer groups said that other studies suggest a much higher cancer risk. Tests of hundreds of wooden playsets, decks and picnic tables show that residues from them may contain up to 30% more arsenic than the CPSC study estimates, said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group.

The group conducted a study that estimated that arsenic from the playsets could elevate cancer risk by as much as 2,000 cases per million children.

"We believe that CPSC has substantially underestimated the cancer risk associated with CCA-treated wood," she said. Houlihan urged the commission to "immediately ban" use of the wood.

Industry groups argued that CPSC's study was flawed and that it overestimated the risk of contact with arsenic from treated playsets. The Wood Preservative Science Council, an industry-funded group, pointed to a University of Florida study released last year showing that CCA-treated wood is safe for use in playgrounds.

"Simply put, these experts concluded that potential exposures from CCA-treated wood playsets are not reason for concern," read a statement issued by the council.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently conducting a large-scale study looking at the risks CCA poses to children. The agency is also set to enact rules that will phase out the use of CCA-treated wood after December 30, 2003.

A recommendation issued by the CPSC researchers urged the commission to defer a decision on the proposed ban and recall until after EPA completes its study.

"It is expected that the chemical CCA will no longer be available for wood for most consumer uses," said Patricia Bitner, a CPSC researcher.

The CPSC staff also recommended that children who use CCA-treated sets wash their hands immediately following play and cautioned against eating while playing on the sets.

Houlihan urged the commission to enact the ban and recall anyway, since playset manufacturers will still be able to use CCA-treated wood that was sold before the EPA ban goes into full effect in December 2004.

The CPSC is expected to issue a ruling sometime in April.





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