Arsenic in Play Structures

Problem: Until the early 2000’s, most of the pressure-treated wood used in the United States for outdoor structures such as playground equipment, picnic tables, benches and decks was treated with the preservative, Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA). This chemical was the primary preservative used in the pressure-treating process to protect wood against weather, mold and insects. Studies show that CCA-treated wood is continually leaching (releasing) arsenic to the surface of the wood. Arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans: it is a potent skin, bladder and lung carcinogen. Arsenic is also linked to liver and kidney cancer, immune system suppression, increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, endocrine disruption (altering normal hormone levels or activity in the body) and diabetes. Studies have confirmed that high levels of arsenic can be released onto children’s hands by direct contact with arsenic-treated wood. Young children, in particular, are at risk of ingesting (swallowing) arsenic when they put their hands in their mouths after touching CCA-treated wood.

CEH Action: In 2001, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed suit against the leading 31 manufacturers of outdoor playground equipment to stop their use of arsenic-treated wood. We also launched an outreach and information campaign to provide information to California parks and recreation sites, school districts, teachers and parents groups, childcare centers and other agencies so that they are properly informed of the health risks arsenic-treated wood poses, and so that they may take the appropriate actions to minimize these risks.

Solution: By 2003, CEH had reached agreement with the leading wood playground structure companies, calling for the end of the use of CCA in their wood products by the end of that year.

What You Can Do: For information on what to do about older wood play structures that may contain CCA, see our FAQ page.

Test Yours:  Most play equipment, picnic tables, and decks built recently are not made with arsenic-treated wood. But if you have older structures, there’s an easy way for you to find out if they were made of arsenic-treated materials.

  1. Put on a pair of disposable gloves.
  2. Remove a small sample of wood from the structure. It does not need to be bigger than the size of a dime, and a piece half that size is fine.
  3. Put the piece of wood in a ziplock plastic bag.
  4. Dispose of the gloves safely.
  5. Put a label in the bag with your name, your e-mail and postal addresses, and a description of where the sample was taken.
  6. Send the sample to the Center for Environmental Health (2201 Broadway, Suite 302; Oakland, CA 94612)
  7. Within two weeks we’ll let you know the arsenic concentration of your sample.
  8. CEH does not charge for testing, but we welcome donations.

Media:

Late Lessons Learned From Pressure Treated Wood – Part 2, Rachel’s Health and Environment Weekly,  February 12, 2004

Manufacturer refuses refund of arsenic-laced playground, Berkeley Daily Planet, July 26, 2001

Report Cites Danger of Arsenic in Wood, Environmental Working Group (press release), May 23, 2001