In the face of hazardous materials recently being found in baby products, including foods and formulas, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a reminder to parents warning that millions of children face an increased risk of bladder and lung cancer from playing or chewing on wooden playground sets and decks. In a study conducted three years ago, the CPSC found that since the early 1970s, the majority of wood used in residential playground equipment has been treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to preserve and protect the wood from rotting. After some environmental groups petitioned CPSC to ban the use of the CCA preservative, CPSC conducted a study to determine whether there were any risks of harm associated with exposure to this chemical.
CPSC issued a report of its findings, concluding that exposure to CCA-treated wood increases a person’s probability of developing lung or bladder cancer over their lifetime. Children are most at risk of exposure to CCA, since they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths after touching the wooden structures. Other factors which increase the likelihood of exposure are the cumulative amount of time (i.e., number of days in a year) children play on a CCA-treated playset, the amount of arsenic that is picked up on their hands when they play, and the amount of arsenic they ingest from their hands throughout the day.
The CPSC report was quick to caution that children and adults are also exposed to arsenic from a number of other sources, including food, soil, water and air. Furthermore, CPSC reported that there are “many risk factors which contribute to a person’s risk for developing cancer over their lifetime, such as environment, genetics, diet, and behaviors such as smoking.” However, even after taking these factors into consideration, CPSC staff calculated that the increased cancer risk from exposure to CCA-treated wooden playsets is somewhere between 2 to 100 individuals per one million.
Manufacturers of CCA reached a voluntary agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end the manufacture of CCA-treated wood for most consumer applications by December 31, 2003. However, the EPA has indicated that some stocks of wood treated with CCA before this date might still be found on shelves until mid-2004.
What can you do to reduce the risk? Parents and caregivers are instructed to thoroughly wash children’s hands with soap and water immediately after outdoor play and especially before eating. Children should also refrain from eating while on CCA-treated playsets. Some studies have shown that applying certain penetrating coatings, such as oil-based, semi-transparent stains on a regular basis may reduce the amount of arsenic that comes out of the CCA-treated wood.
If you already own a CCA-treated product and would like to remove it from your property, the EPA states that CCA-treated wood should never be burned in open fires, stoves, fireplaces or residential boilers. You can contact the EPA (www.epa.gov) or your state or local solid waste management offices to receive instructions on how to dispose of CCA-treated wood.
If you decide to purchase a non-CCA treated wood product, there are a number of non-arsenic-containing preservatives that are registered by the EPA to pressure-treat wood. These products can be purchased at retail stores and home improvement centers.
For more information, you can view the full CPSC report on www.cpsc.gov.