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Just another potential hazard

September 11, 2008
Lake Placid News
A report in this week’s News indicates that trace amounts of arsenic have been found at the playground at the Lake Placid Elementary School — both in the ground and wood. Although the amounts may seem insignificant, it is enough that parents of children who use the park, and school officials, should take notice.

Arsenic was used since the 1930s to help protect wood against rotting and insects. The playground at the Lake Placid Elementary School was built in 1989 with wood treated with chromated-copper arsenate (CCA). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of CCA-treated wood for residential structures, including playgrounds, in 2004.

The sampling of the playground was taken by the News, and the testing of the dirt and wood on the playground was done by the Environmental Quality Institute, a research institute affiliated with the University of North Carolina, using a test kit available to the public. Anyone can follow the instructions in obtaining the samples, which does not require technical skills. The samples are tested in a laboratory.

Arsenic is a known human carcinogen. The concern regarding children at a playground is that they will touch the arsenic and later put their hands in their mouths, as many children do. Both parents and school officials must take the report of arsenic seriously and not pass it off as just “a scare.”

Apparently the school district has been taking protective measures throughout the years by applying a sealant designed to prevent the arsenic at the playground from leaching. But that is not enough, as the sealant used, according to the company that produces it, was not intended to prevent leaching of arsenic.

The playground at the Lake Placid Elementary School is not the only school or public playground in the nation to face scrutiny over arsenic-treated wood. There have been cases throughout the nation, including right in Albany, and officials in various cities and school districts have acted in a responsible fashion.

In many cases, the playground in question was torn down and a new one built. The problem of arsenic-treated wood at playgrounds is a national one, but this one in particular must be addressed locally.

No one should panic with the report of arsenic at the local playground. Children should still be able to play there but should take precautions, such as washing hands after playing. School officials should plan a test of their own to verify the presence of arsenic — then a concerted effort should be initiated between the school and community to begin the process of planning a new playground.

There may be some in the community who donated money and volunteered time and effort to have the current playground built who will frown upon the thought of tearing it down. But Lake Placid is a community that cares about its youth, and even if there is a remote chance that just one in 10,000 children may get sick, it is a clear case in which community support and action is required.

The News acknowledges that the actual danger posed by arsenic in playgrounds is not known, as there are yet to be studies done. Also, the only playground tested was the one at the elementary school, for no other reason than because it is the most prominent such playground in Lake Placid. The testing is not meant to target the school district, which surely has the interests of its children high on its priority list. There may be other playgrounds in the community that need testing, and perhaps in the future, they, too, will be tested for arsenic.

Furthermore, the News does not have scientific evidence to pinpoint the elementary school playgroud as a place where children have gotten sick, or might get sick. There are many other structures that have used arsenic-treated wood — some of them right in people’s own backyards in the form of decks and picnic tables. No one can say for sure what the extent of the arsenic problem is.

The report in the News was meant solely to bring to light a potential hazard. There are dangerous elements in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, and in the water we drink. But children are much more suspeptible to disease, and a potential arsenic problem at the elementary school playground should at least be investigated in a more complete manner.



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