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Study Shows Arsenic Found In Soil of 18 Boston Playgrounds

Nov 2, 2003 | AP At least 18 Boston playgrounds have arsenic-tainted soil, 10 with dangerously high levels of the carcinogen, according to a study by University of Massachusetts and Wellesley College researchers.

At 18 of the 25 playgrounds where play equipment or landscaping was made with pressure-treated wood, arsenic was detected in the soil, the researchers found.

Ten playgrounds had amounts exceeding the state's "action level" of 30 parts per million, considered dangerous by state environmental regulators. Three of those Ronan Park in Dorchester, Shubow Park in Allston-Brighton and Gibbons Playground in Jamaica Plain were found to have concentrations of more than 100 parts per million.

Arsenic has been linked with bladder and lung cancer, and small children, who are likely to put their hands in their mouths while playing, are particularly vulnerable.

The study, which tested samples from 76 of Boston's 105 playgrounds, looked at arsenic in playgrounds where wood preserved with copper chromated arsenate is used.

"Our study shows that if you have CCA wood in contact with soil, there is a good chance the level of soil concentration is above the Massachusetts action level," Robert B. Beattie, director of the undergraduate Environmental Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, told The Boston Globe.

City officials questioned the study's methodology and said the city had stopped installing playground equipment made with pressure-treated wood three years ago.

"According to health officials, it's not a health risk," said Park Commissioner Antonia Pollak. "We will be replacing it, absolutely, over time. But there is probably more pressure-treated wood in people's backyard decks than in the parks."

Pollak said the wood and tainted soil from the three worst-affected playgrounds would be removed immediately, but added that the city was under no obligation to do so.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials said they regulate cleanup of toxic substances only when the source is naturally occurring or is a hazardous waste site. The municipality would be responsible for eliminating arsenic from pressure-treated wood.

Environmental groups have been pushing for a ban on CCA wood in playgrounds.

"Researchers have looked at the way children play on play sets," said Sean Gray of the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. "Everything goes into their mouth. Arsenic rubs off and gets on their hands and they lick their hands."

Under scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the wood industry has said it will stop selling the product by December. But an industry spokesman said there is no scientific evidence linking exposure to CCA wood with cancer.

"All of the sound scientific studies that have been done on CCA-treated wood find that it's perfectly safe when used as recommended," said Jim Hale, of the Wood Preservative Science Council. "It's been in use over 70 years. We haven't seen an increase in any types of cancer (environmental groups) are claiming this could lead to."

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