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July, 2003

Deadly Playgrounds
 

   The Croydon Conservation Society recently carried out testing on CCA treated pine playground equipment located at a school in the City of Maroondah. We conducted this testing to determine if arsenic was present on the surface of the timber, as there were many overseas reports of high residue levels of arsenic found on playground equipment. The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been quoted as saying that CCA timber was not considered a risk to children, as any chemical leaching should have occurred while the timber was in storage. The three chemicals used in the treatment process are arsenic, chromium and copper. The wood preserving industry has always claimed that these chemicals are "fixed" into the timber with very little leaching. Chromium, being the fixing agent, supposedly renders the copper and arsenic insoluble. 
   Our tests revealed staggering levels of not only arsenic, but also chromium and copper. The highest levels wiped from the surface of the timber were 710 micrograms of arsenic, 630 micrograms of chromium and 670 micrograms of copper. To put that into perspective, the level of arsenic available to children on the surface of the timber, far exceeds the maximum amount of arsenic allowed in a glass of drinking water. Arsenic is a known carcinogen, an endocrine system disrupter and can be toxic to the skin and internal organs. Chromium accumulates in tissues, is a strong skin irritant and a potent skin allergen. There is no data on the effects of ingesting chromium, arsenic and copper together. Gloves are recommended to be used when handling CCA treated timber. Burning CCA treated timber releases toxic amounts of arsenic gas and CCA treated timber sawdust and woodchips have been detected in garden mulch in the USA The use of this timber has created a huge disposal problem for authorities due to its leaching potential.
   Overseas research reveals that 1 in 500 children who play on CCA-treated playsets three times a week are expected to develop cancer from these exposures. Ten percent of children who regularly play on CCA-treated playsets face an excess lifetime cancer risk greater than one in 100. These toxic chemicals disproportionately affect children, due to their hand-to-mouth behavior and more regular contact with CCA treated timber structures. 
   The United States EPA has placed a ban on all residential uses of CCA treated timber from December 2003. The European Union (EU) has a similar ban in place, citing the risk to children's health from CCA treated timber playgrounds in their Directive. The EU also included some aquatic situations. 
   Citing lack of any new evidence that suggested health concerns requiring regulatory action, and on the advice of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, Australian authorities decided in December last year not to conduct a review on the health and environmental effects of CCA treated timber products. In March this year, due to the overwhelming weight of adverse findings, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) finally relented and agreed to a review. The Draft Report is not due until mid-2004. 
   If this small pilot study is indicative of overall residue levels on CCA treated timber scattered throughout the community, then there is a problem from both a health and environmental perspective. It supports the findings of the study conducted last year in the USA The APVMA should not be waiting for another year to act. 
Contact: Keith Loveridge, President Croydon Conservation Society
Tel:(03) 9723 1806 Email: [email protected] .com 

 

 

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