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Feds Worried on Playground-Cancer Link

Nov 15, 2003 | AP

Federal regulators worried about increased cancer risks to children said Friday they might recommend the use of wood sealants to contain the arsenic within a pesticide-treated wood used in playground equipment.

Three months into an 18-month study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, researchers are finding some success in sealing off the pesticide, chromated copper arsenate, that is used in almost all wooden playgrounds, with an oil-based semitransparent stain, said Jim Jones, director of EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.

"The early results are that some sealants are very effective in preventing the arsenic from leaching out of the wood," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

EPA released a new draft study this week that shows what Jones calls "a marginally increased risk of cancer" for children, ages 1 to 6, who are exposed to the pesticide. The added chances of a child this age getting cancer ranged from one-in-1 million, which is considered negligible, to one-in-100,000, he said.

"Americans now face a risk of one in four chances of getting cancer. This adds to it rather marginally," Jones said.

At year's end, the industry will complete its phaseout of any new products built with the pesticide. EPA removed the pesticide, used mainly to protect lumber from decay and insect damage, from its list of approved chemicals.

An industry group, the Wood Preservative Science Council, maintains the pesticide-treated wood has been used safely for 70 years. It said the study is incomplete, "an insufficient tool for regulatory decision making."

The Environmental Working Group, a research advocacy organization that has sought a ban on the treated wood, criticized EPA for its earlier assurances that playground equipment need not be replaced if certain precautions were followed.

In announcing the phaseout of the treated wood in virtually all residential uses, EPA said in February 2002 that it "has not concluded that CCA-treated wood poses unreasonable risks to the public (and) does not believe there is any reason to remove or replace" playgrounds and other structures built with the wood.

"That assurance was then wholly without scientific merit, as no EPA risk assessment had been performed," said Kenneth Cook, the environmental group's president.

Jones said the assurances were made because "we knew that arsenic posed hazards, but we didn't know what the risks were so we gave some commonsense recommendations that we still stand by."

Those recommendations to parents include making sure children wash their hands after playing and don't eat on the play sets or let food come into contact with the wood.

In the long run, however, sealants may be the answer.

"What we'd like to do is find a stain or sealant that people can purchase and apply to their deck or child's playground to reduce the amount of arsenic that is dislodged," said Eric Criss, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission decided a ban on the pesticide-treated wood in playground equipment was unnecessary because of the industry phaseout.

"We're telling people there is reason for concern, but not alarm," he said.

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