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Speaking of arsenic…

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The Pinnacle playset is one tricked out place for kids to romp and play and pretend. It’s got a sweet slide, a trapeze and a couple swings suspended by special “ouchless” heavy gauge chain. Home Depot sells kits to build these jungle gyms for $299.

Spring is playset season in Western Montana. At Home Depot, someone in an orange vest is standing by ready to tell shopping parents that playsets call for treated lumber. And unless parents ask for something different, that’s what mom, dad and the kids with return home with—a playset made from lumber that’s treated with a cancer-causing coat of arsenic.

Currently, three chemical companies make the arsenic coating used to protect wood from outside elements like weather and bugs. Those three companies volunteered this year to phase out the production of arsenic wood preservative, says Dave Deegan with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington D.C.

Deegan insists the companies’ decision to get out of the arsenic business has nothing to do with the alarming number of health problems linked to arsenic exposure. It’s just a coincidence, asserts Deegan, that a host of public interest groups are calling for an immediate ban on the arsenic-containing pesticide used to weather-proof wood for decks, fences and playgrounds.

As things stand now, chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood will begin disappearing from lumber yards by the end of 2003. Until then, many parents will continue to unknowingly erect CCA-contaminated playsets for their kids.

Exposure to CCA has been linked to an increased risk of lung, bladder and skin cancer. Studies show that children between the ages of 2 and 6 who play on CCA-treated playsets three times per week face an elevated risk of cancer.

The EPA’s Deegan says Home Depot and the other purveyors of playsets are well aware of the risks posed to children by treated lumber. But when the Indy called Home Depot and quizzed a sales rep about arsenic-treated lumber and its threat to kids, the paper was told by the sales rep, “I’d use treated lumber myself.”

Home Depot and other retailers with large stocks of treated lumber are hoping to sell off their inventories of arsenic-coated wood before this toxic product is phased out by the EPA in December. The EPA’s Deegan won’t address the fact that some of the soon-to-be-banned wood is certain to be used by unsuspecting parents this summer when they build their kids’ new playset. The EPA spokesman chooses instead to look at the bright side—for retailers anyway—when he explains that over the next several months, the remaining CCA-treated wood will be “clearing through the channels of trade.”

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