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Steps Being Taken To Protect Kids From Playground Toxins

Feb 12, 2003 | Kingston Daily Freeman

IN THE WAKE of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announcing it may ban a common pesticide used to treat wooden playground equipment, local school and park administrators say they are taking steps to ensure the safety of children.

The commission last week said tests had shown chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, could lead to arsenic contamination, increasing the risk of bladder and lung cancer in children exposed to playsets treated with the agent. The tests showed that CCA leaching out of treated wood could transfer to children's hands and then be ingested at hazardous levels.

As few as two or as many as 100 children per million could face increased lifetime risk of the cancers due to CCA exposure, the tests showed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission considers anything above one person per million to be reason for concern.

Saugerties school district Superintendent Michael Singleton said the staff at Grant D. Morse Elementary school, which has a wooden playground, would be advised of the commission's findings to ensure that children wash their hands after using playground equipment, a precaution recommended by the commission.

At Kingston's Forsyth Park, the CCA-treated Kinderland playground will be washed down and coated with a non-toxic sealant at the first spring thaw, said city Parks Administrator Mary Jo Wiltshire.

"Nobody has gone so far as to say the playground should be torn down," Wiltshire said. "Really, nothing official has come across my desk on the subject."

Wiltshire also said the playground manufacturer has suggested annual sealing as routine maintenance.

Ken Giles, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the agency is in the process of evaluating the effectiveness of various sealants in preventing the bleeding of CCA out of the wood and onto children's hands.

"Right now, we just don't have independent evidence that (sealing) keeps the arsenic from coming out of the wood," he said.

State Board of Health spokeswoman Claire Popisil said her agency has been aware of the CCA issue for some time and could provide advice to communities on how to minimize exposure of children. Popisil said responses to CCA contamination depend on a host of risk factors, including the age of children using the equipment and the frequency of use. "There is no pat answer," she said.

Concern over CCA exposure dates back to the 1980s, said Marc Leathers of Ithaca-based Leathers and Associates, which designed the Kinderland playground in Kingston. Kinderland was erected in the early 1990s.

"About two years ago, it resurfaced as a concern and gathered enough momentum to stay current," Leathers said, adding that his company stopped using CCA-treated wood in January 2002 and that the entire industry plans to stop using the pesticide by the end of 2003. Leathers said non-toxic pesticides now used to treat wood have made CCA obsolete.

Last June, the state Legislature passed a bill banning CCA-treated wood in new playgrounds and requiring annual sealing for existing ones.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill D-Kingston, who helped build the Kinderland playground, said the law is an effective remedy for the problem. "At the time, (CCA) was the safest approach. Now we know that there are better alternatives," Cahill said, noting that insect infestation of playground equipment carries as much or greater risks to children than the pesticide. "If the bill had said tear down the playgrounds, I would not have voted for it."

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