Once again all of us here at Water Testing Blog feel the need to mention a testing topic slightly off from our usual water testing subject — though in the end this discussion will come right back to it.

Many different newspapers, magazines and other media outlets have published articles about the dangers presented by pressure treated lumber containing chromated copper arsenate. Studies have shown that over time, chromated copper arsenate treated lumber in wooden playgrounds, decks and other structured have a tendency to leach inorganic arsenic out of the wood, onto the ground, and potentially into the local drinking water supply.

“NEW YORK (August 27th, 2007) – More than thirty percent of New Orleans schoolyards tested two years after Hurricane Katrina are contaminated with arsenic in amounts two to three times the levels requiring cleanup under both state and federal law, according to findings released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). ( source )”

Children whose lives got thrashed apart by Hurrican Katrina returned home to their battered neighborhoods only to find their favorite playgrounds coated in cancer-causing arsenic which officials believe may have come from deposits of deeply buried old pesticide deposits which came to the surface when flood waters rushed through the city and eroded the soil, carrying the toxins wherever they went.

More proof that arsenic in pressure treated wood poses a danger to the environment. . .

The following text taken from an article written entitled “U.S. Tests for Arsenic in Playgrounds Sets” by Julie Hauserman and published in the St. Petersburg Time on 9/26/2001 ought to give the average parent nightmares:

“TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. government plans to take more than 1,000 samples at wooden playgrounds around the country to find out if the arsenic in pressure-treated lumber is leaking out.

The testing could start as soon as November, according to a draft plan released this week by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The government’s action follows a series of studies around the country — including soil tests commissioned by the St. Petersburg Times — that show that arsenic is leaking out of pressure-treated wood, one of the most popular building products in America. The wood is infused with a pesticide called chromated copper arsenate, or CCA.

EPA plans to make random calls to city parks, private schools, day care centers and public schools, asking for permission to test. The Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to test about 75 playgrounds, and also test lumber purchased at home-improvement stores around the country. Government testers plan to take some 750 soil samples.

The strategy could change, though, in the next month. It becomes final after a 30-day public comment period.

Ordinary pressure-treated lumber has enough toxic chemicals in it to rank it as a hazardous waste, but the industry got a special exemption years ago from hazardous waste laws. The wood is banned in several countries.

Some advocates hope the federal study will lead to a ban on pressure-treated wood at playgrounds, where children can pick up traces of arsenic.

“I think we know enough now to know that CCA wood is dangerous,” said Jane Houlihan, research director for the Environmental Working Group in Washington, which is pushing for a ban. “The government should be acting, not studying, at this point.”

To find out whether pressure-treated lumber leaks arsenic, the Times commissioned soil tests around five wooden playgrounds, picked randomly in the Tampa Bay area. Every test came up positive for arsenic, at levels higher than the state allows when polluters clean up contaminated neighborhoods.

Pressure-treated wood executives agree that arsenic leaches out, but say the levels are too low to worry about.

“The testing that’s been done in the past has consistently held up the safety of CCA wood,” said Mel Pine, spokesman for the American Wood Preservers Institute, an industry trade group. “We have every reason to believe these new tests will affirm the safety of our product.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission last studied pressure-treated wood in 1990, testing seven wooden playgrounds purchased from “major U.S. manufacturers.” The study found that arsenic was leaking from the wood. The study looked only at a child’s risk for skin cancer from the arsenic and found “a small risk that should be reduced further if it can be practically accomplished.”

Arsenic can also cause neurological problems, birth defects and other kinds of cancer.

The Environmental Working Group and the Healthy Building Network filed a petition with the Consumer Product Safety Commission last spring, asking the government to ban arsenic-treated wood on playgrounds. That petition will be addressed at a public meeting in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 3.

On Oct. 22, a scientific panel convened by the EPA will explore the risk that arsenic-treated lumber may pose to children.

The wood-treatment industry is facing legal and regulatory challenges all over the country.

In Miami, a federal class-action lawsuit says the industry and home-improvement stores were negligent because they didn’t warn consumers that the wood contained toxic chemicals.

The EPA ordered the wood-treatment industry to add more warning labels on the wood, which should show up in stores before the end of the year.

Wood-treaters are also facing several personal-injury claims from people who say they have been poisoned by the wood. Some of those claims, including one filed by a Seattle teacher who was poisoned by arsenic wood when he built a raft, have been settled.

In Congress, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is pushing a measure that would force the EPA to issue a report on arsenic-treated wood in just 30 days. He praised the government’s plan to do more tests.

“Thank goodness the Consumer Product Safety Commission is coming forth,” Nelson said. “The whole point of me doing my amendment and raising such a ruckus is to try to give some certainty to local government officials as to what they should do with their playgrounds. Some of them have closed, some of them have reopened. The county commissions and city councils need to have some definitive information — is the playground soil safe or not?

In Florida, state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Dunedin, is pushing to ban arsenic-treated wood on playgrounds. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has stopped buying arsenic-treated lumber for state parks, and the Florida Department of Health has convened a scientific panel to look at the risk that the wood may pose to children.

There are safer alternatives to arsenic-treated wood, and some of the same companies that sell arsenic-treated wood in the United States also sell the environmentally safer kind in countries that have banned arsenic-treated wood.

This summer, a Florida wood-treatment company became the first in state history to start treating wood without arsenic.

Large retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot don’t carry the arsenic-free treated wood yet. Company spokesmen say there’s not enough consumer demand for it. ( source )”

Update: An ad campaign sponsored in part by Healthy Building Network has since convinced Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling arsenic treated wood. ( source )

No demand for safe lumber? Cost probably plays a factor in that, but that topic can get debated elsewhere. No one on the Water Testing Blog staff has a degree in Economics. . . but we all care about keeping dangerous compounds such as arsenic out of our (and your) drinking water.

Remember: Inorganic arsenic leaching from pressure treated wood typically goes into the ground where it can find its way into a stream, a river, the aquifer, someone’s well, and eventually someone’s drinking water.

How Can Homeowners Test for Arsenic in Wood?

A new test procedure developed by Industrial Test Systems, Inc. makes use of their patented, EPA/ETVR Test Verified Arsenic QuickTM test kit and provides accurate, repeatable arsenic in wood test results down to as low as 1 migrogram per liter in as little as 10 minutes. Suggested retail cost for 5 tests: $25.99 USD

International Aid Organizations worldwide make use of QuickTM Arsenic testing kits to detect arsenic levels in water, wood and soil.