I have always considered myself a diligent parent. I read about information and trends, check toys I have bought for my daughter against the Consumer Product Safety Commission Recall List, buy organic and/or sustainable food, use rBGH free milk and so on.
So when an article appeared recently in Good Housekeeping (shut up, my wife showed it to me) about the dangers of CCA Lumber, I was disappointed in myself for not knowing about this. However, in researching it further now, I have noticed something that I consider not only disturbing but downright wrong. Yes, I can find some information out there. Some of it actually fairly old, including this excellent article from Parents’ Press, that give a broad overview of the problem, focusing primarily on children’s wooden playsets. Although they do not go much further than repeating the EPA’s suggestion of make sure your children wash their hands after exposure, and to retreat the wood. Which is of course correct, but really de-emphasizes the problems and risks involved, and seems to take them too lightly.
Let me go back a bit for those that like me, may have been a bit lacking on information on this. CCA treated lumber (known as Chromated Copper Arsenate or “Pressure Treated” Lumber) up until 2003, was treated with a chemical compound of Chromium Copper and Arsenic (the phase out began at the end of 2003, but already existing lumber, playsets, etc were allowed to continue to be sold well into 2004 and beyond). CCA lumber is identifiable by its green (when new) or dull gray (older) coloring. When you see green coloring leeching out of the wood (as you can see at the bottom of the fence post in the picture), that is the toxic compound leeching out of the wood. Despite the deal between the EPA and the lumber industry that ultimately led to the “voluntary” removal of CCA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission REFUSED to ban the sale of CCA treated playsets. Of course these are the same people that did not think lead in children’s lunch boxes was a big deal.
This lumber, besides being the lumber that makes up wooden swingsets and playsets. It is also the foundation of many backyard fences and outdoor decks, and picnic tables. Now I am not saying that if you have any of these things that you need to throw them out or replace them immediately. But if you are going to use them and allow your child to play and or eat on or near these things, please make sure you have treated them with penetrating stains. Not paints, not top coatings, but penetrating stains (One that comes to mind is Thompson’s Water Sealer and Stain, but I am not advocating any particular brand, so long as it is the type that penetrates and seals the wood to keep the toxic compounds in the wood). Previously it had been suggested you usually only needed to do this “every few years”, but to be safe should probably be done annually. Understand Arsenic can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. One-tenth of a gram accumulated over a two month period can produce death, and arsenic is carcinogenic at much lower levels.
To make this story even a bit more disconcerting that it already is, while reading up on this, I found two more stories that made the situation potentially worse. The first being that, while most of the focus on CCA lumber has been focused on the arsenic, it turns out the chromium may also cause lung cancer. And worse that that, the chromium industry knew and withheld that information. The second adds something else to the list to worry about. It seems that many mulches, used to decorate your landscaping, since it is usually made from recycled lumber is also showing a problem of Arsenic Leaching.
You would think that a something this significant wold have garnered much more attention than it has up until now, and probably would have if the CPSC was doing their job of protecting consumers. But in the meantime, if you have some of this wood used in your yard or around your house, please take the time to ensure it is sealed.
Update: As one commenter pointed out, there is an excellent gathering of information available at http://www.bancca.org, which has quite a list of information and articles (including mainstream media articles and news stories on it), and some awful stories of people that were victims of CCA poisoning.
Update II: Check out Ten safety steps to reduce your familyâ€™s exposure to arsenic from arsenic-treated wood. (Hat Tip to Dr. Lynne Eldridge M.D. author of “Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time”)