Forts and castles made of arsenic-treated wood last for years,
|The actual preset for environmental disaster
An explosion of cancerous diseases is to be expected in the coming decades
Doctors admit that no one knows precisely what concentrations of environmental arsenic are toxic, and the wood-treatment industry insists that wherever that line is, its products don't cross it. Environmental groups, however, disagree, insisting that at any dosage level, children and arsenic don't mix. Says Richard Wiles, pesticide director for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group; "We've pretty much set up an arsenic delivery system for kids."
Most parents know little about the threat of poison in playgrounds, but in government circles, the alarm bells being sounded by consumer groups have reached the point where officials feel they have to act. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency announced that starting later this year, CCA-treated lumber sold in the U.S. will contain a warning label, and stores will be provided with stickers and signs for their displays. At the same tima, the Consumer Product Safety Commission agreed to ask for public comments on petitions that could lead to an outright ban of CCA. In Florida, dozens of playgrounds have bean shut down, and Governor Jeb Bush has ordered a state-run woodtreatment plant to switch to another preservative. While adults wrestle with the politics of the problem, however, it's kids who may be paying the ultimate price.
For scientists investigating arsenic, the numbers are sobering. Ninety-eight percent of outdoor wood sold in the U.S. is treated with CCA. In Florida alone, nearly 27,000 tons of arsenic are believed to he at large. Investigators testing soil in the state's playgrounds have found arsenic levels far higher than hazardous waste experts consider safe. Prolonged exposure can lead to nerve damage, dizziness and numbness, as well as increased risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer.
Rink Feutz knows better than most the harm that arsenic can do. In 1986 the Washington State teacher was building a wooden raft for his children, a job that required a lot of sawing - and a lot of sawdust. Within days, he felt achy and nauseated and experienced a tingling in his hands. The problem persisted, and eventually doctors diagnosed arsenic poisoning. The price he has paid is high; he last a third of his overall motor control, and, even today, his face remains partly paralyzed. "My eye droops; I have weakness in my arms and legs," he says, "My long-term risk far bladder, lung and other problems is magnified enormously."
An environmental problem that was already coming to light 15 years ago ought, many argue, to have been addressed by now. Nine nations, including Sweden, Germany, Vietnam and Indonesia, have banned or restricted CCA use, but federal and state regulators in the U.S. have taken a far more lax approach. In 1987, California passed a law requiring CCA-treated structures to be coated with paint or sealant every two years. The EPA set guidelines of its own, establishing a program under which woodmakers would provide a warning sheet with each package of treated lumber shipped to retailers. But critics charge that the California law has been largely ignored and point out that the EPA program is strictly voluntary. Even when suppliers provide warnings, retailers may simply discard them with packing material before customers ever see them.
The fact that the government has gone so easy on arsenic is, according to critics, a testament to the political muscle of the $4 billion-a-year wood-treatment Industry. The industry counters that it has been left alone because it deserves to be - and the case it makes has some merit. If CCA were as deadly as some say, factory workers who make the stuff and carpenters who work with it ought to be falling ill in droves. Yet no one reports a measurable increase in disease among these groups. "Certainly, if there were a danger, it would show up," says Mel Pine, spokesman for the American Wood Preservers' Institute.
|CCA-salt is a mixture of highly toxic waste from the ore and blast furnace industry. Heavy metals are dispersed this way in the environment and in the food chain and can cause cancer|
CCA foes don't buy this, pointing opt that the EPA has already banned arsenic for all other pesticide applications - not the kind of thing the agency does lightly. In March, lawyers from Florida, New York, Washington and Indiana filed a class action against the industry and some retailers, hoping to force them to pay for sealing existing structures built with CCA and cleaning up contaminated sites. Such legal sword rattling may be having an effect. Last week PlayNation, a Georgia-based maker of playground equipment, announced that it will immediately switch to nonarsenic-based preservatives. According to several sources, the industry as a whole could make such a change at a cost of just $40,000 par treatment plant. Pine won't speculate on whether the industry will consider making the switch, though he concedes that the final decision "will depend on the market."
Consumers can help shape that market by voting with their wallets. In the meantime, activists are launching a nationwide campaign to encourage testing of playground equipment for arsenic, Next week the Consumer Product Safety Commission will begin a new study to assess the arsenic risk kids face in playgrounds, and the EPA plans similar investigations later this year. The EPA is also reviewing more than 300 pesticides (including the arsenic in CCA) to decide whether it will continue to approve their use. With the current flap, there is a fair chance arsenic won't make the cut.
Whatever CCA's ultimate fate, the existing problem will probably be with us for a long time. Even when a playground is torn down, the wood must still be disposed of - not an easy thing to do. Dumping it in an unlined landfill allows arsenic to seep underground. Mulching it scatters CCA en the surface. And burning it fills the air with toxic is smoke, leaving the structures to disintegrate on their own could take a while. CCA is such an effective preservative that those pressure-treated wooden forts and castles might still be standing a generation from now. In retrospect, the old metal swings and jungle gyms are starting to look pretty good,
Reported by Dan Cray/Los Angeles and Elisabeth Kauffman/Nashville
This page has been sent to the European Commission to prevent the subsidy of 1,3 billion guilders to be paid to the ministry for the environment (VROM) and plea to redirect those funds to install the technology of NUL-OPTION or ZERO-OPTION to clean up our environment completely as shown in the video. This technology can be used world wide to dispose of all toxic waste in the world. The energy contained in CCA-treated wood can contribute to its own anhinilation next to the disposal of huge amounts of household and industrial waste.