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Is Danger Lurking In City Parks?

Jan 18, 2003 | Belleville Intelligencer

Most parents wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Playground structures mostly made of wood would seem natural and safe.

A newly released study, however, revealed that structures comprised of pressure-treated wood could contain arsenic and leach into the soil beneath.

Results from the study have Belleville parks and recreation department officials concerned, said its director. The concern stems, say officials, from findings that seven Canadian cities have play structures showing concentrations of arsenic at four times the accepted federal level of 12 milligrams per kilogram.

The study was done by Environmental Defence Canada which raised the concerns this week because arsenic can cause cancer, brain trauma and nervous system problems.

Belleville parks and recreation director Doug Moses said the study raises an issue that has been examined in four previous national studies looking into the effects of pressure treating wood beams with a compound known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA).

Moses said the arsenic has been shown to escape from the treated wood primarily in the first six months of installation and has been known to leach into the sand beneath play structures where young children known for putting things in their mouths can ingest the soil.

Only four playground structures in Belleville have the pressure-treated wood components but Moses said the city has not tested the soil beneath to see if there is a problem.

The city playground structures with pressure treated wood are located at the East Hill Playground at Bleecker and Bridge streets; the West Zwicks play structure; the Lions Park off Reid Street and East Bayshore Park play structure south of the Belleville hospital on the Bay of Quinte.

Moses said the city has spoken to a Florida-based consultant who agreed the city should reexamine its playground structures but, that the city not be overly alarmed that there is a major risk since the structures have been in place for some time.

Over the years, Moses said, the arsenic would have either been washed away by constant rains and snow or would have seeped deep into the soil beneath the surface sand where children play.

“We are going to do a precautionary review of the structures we now have,” said Moses. “We’re concerned the soils may hold some arsenic so we can also do soil testing. We will be doing that as part of our budget considerations.”

Moses said city parks staff will, for now, use a wood sealant on the playground structures to prevent any further possible leaking of arsenic from the wood.

Plans, meanwhile, are underway to look at replacing the four park structures in future using city funds in cooperation with community groups.

For now, Moses said children should be supervised around wooden play structures to avoid any possible exposure to the soil.

“Obviously the children shouldn’t be eating piles and piles of soil, anyway,” said Moses.

A report, meanwhile, will be prepared for city council to explore the risks for city residents, said Moses, to offer options on how best to handle the concerns.

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