PLAYGROUND POISONAug 15, 2004 | New York Post
A third of the playgrounds in Central Park expose kids to potentially dangerous levels of arsenic, a Post investigation has found.
Pressure-treated wood at 7 of 20 play areas tested positive for arsenic at levels above what experts consider safe, and two others had lesser levels of the cancer-causing chemical.
The highest reading 316.6 micrograms, from a jungle-gym plank at the Wild West Playground on West 93rd Street translates to about a 1-in-500 lifetime risk of lung or bladder cancer for kids who play there three hours a week from ages 1 through 6, the test showed.
The arsenic was detected despite claims by the city's Parks Department that it regularly coats wood playsets with paint or polyurethane to stop arsenic from oozing out.
"It's a routine task," said Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh, who said seven inspectors perform 110 visits a week to city parks for check-ups.
But the department which has removed some pressure-treated wood in playgrounds and says it will eventually phase it out completely does not test for arsenic.
Kavanagh expressed alarm at The Post's results.
"Obviously, you're going to be concerned about it," he said.
At the Diana Ross Playground on West 81st Street, a polyurethane sealant had been rubbed off many of the planks.
A ladder and climbing bar there tested negative, but a bench and a sandbox rail showed signs of arsenic, which is used to make wood last longer but has raised health concerns.
The rail's reading of 8.6 micrograms translates to more than a 1-in-10,000 lifetime risk for lung and bladder cancer, according to the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina, which did the tests for The Post.
The Environmental Protection Agency says no product should have a cancer risk of greater than 1 in 1 million. For arsenic, that means a reading of .077 micrograms.
But most experts agree that some risk is acceptable and that seven micrograms is the threshold for danger.
The Post's results shocked Manhattan mom Chris Greeno, who brings sons Jake, 6, and John, 3, to the Wild West Playground.
"It's horrifying," she said. "Dangers to children are grossly underestimated."
The Post visited all 20 playgrounds in Central Park, five of which had no wood at all and were made instead of plastic composites, rubber or metal.
Of the 12 playgrounds where wood was tested, only the Bernard and Rudin playgrounds and tables at the Pinetum swings showed no arsenic.
Readings for the others ranged from .4 to 316.6 micrograms per 100 square centimeters.
The second-highest readings came at Playground 96, where a climbing bar came in at 32.4 micrograms and a stepping block tested at 118.7, which equates to about a 1-in-1,500 lifetime cancer risk, according to the institute.
The Central Park results include "some of the highest tests we've seen," said Diane Morgan, institute lab manager.
Concerns about arsenic-treated wood have swept the nation in the past few years.
The toxic compound greatly reduces decay resulting from bugs and fungi but slowly oozes out for up to 20 years.
In a deal with the EPA, lumber firms agreed to stop producing the product this year, though it's still widely available.
New York state has banned its use in new playgrounds. Older structures must be sealed once a year.
Arsenic-treated wood is especially dangerous for kids as they often put their fingers in their