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District Is Looking For Alternative To Treated Wood

Apr 27, 2003 | Athens Banner-Herald

Keep your fingers out of your mouth and wash your hands before you pick up that sandwich.

They're general rules of good hygiene, and they're also guidelines that the Clarke County School District offers for children who climb across and crawl on and hang from playground equipment that's been pressure-treated with a chemical that can lead to an increased risk of cancer. Now, school administrators are looking for a more permanent solution.

''You're talking about the playground equipment at all of the elementary schools,'' said Paul Dill, who spoke to the school board's policy committee in support of a plan to prohibit the wood in future playground equipment.

Elementary school principals received a warning in February about the wood likely treated with chromated copper arsenate, an industry standard for pressure-treated wood - telling them to have teachers make sure children wash their hands after playing on the equipment so they don't ingest the chemical.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning about the arsenic-treated wood earlier this year. Registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide, CCA might increase the risk of bladder or lung cancer.

School district officials are trying to write up a policy that would prohibit the use of the wood ''where practicable,'' particularly for playgrounds, but also for any other construction. A recent draft of the policy listed some alternative materials an option that parents at Cleveland Road Elementary School are trying to fast-track.

The school was slated to have its playground equipment replaced in 2006, as part of Cleveland Road's share of special-purpose, local-option sales tax money. Members of the school's Parent Teacher Organization plan to ask the school board to move that project forward, Principal Julie Bower said.

''We have several parents who are very active in the PTO, who are in the midst of preparing a letter to the SPLOST committee about our playscape,'' Bower said. ''Basically we are asking teachers to have the children wash their hands each time they return to the building and not to let them eat on the equipment. But parents were a bit concerned and would like to go back to the SPLOST committee and ask for earlier installation of the new playscape.''

The school wants to use a synthetic material for the new playground equipment.

Meanwhile, school board member Vernon Payne, who represents District 2, has asked about painting or staining existing equipment, comparing the measure to encapsulation of asbestos that the district was unable to remove from school buildings when that health hazard was exposed.

Besides the cost of replacing all the playground equipment, a complete overhaul would leave the district with disposal costs - the arsenic-treated lumber has become a ''cradle-to-grave'' problem, Dill said, because it's now considered hazardous material. Officials would have to go through a licensed waste handler with an EPA permit.

''The EPA wouldn't want it burned or buried,'' he said.

While neither the EPA nor the Consumer Products Safety Commission has endorsed painting or staining as a solution to the treated wood, both have referred to the practice in technical reports, saying that it is a method of containing the chemical, he said.


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