In 2015, a Michigan municipality discovered arsenic contamination in the soil beneath a large playscape structure located in a city park. This playscape had served the community and its children for over 20 years, but to the surprise of city officials, the source of the arsenic contamination was found to be coming from the playscape structure itself. The cause? Chromate-copper arsenate (CCA) leaching into the soil from the pressure-treated wood used to construct the playscape.
The municipality promptly prohibited access to the playscape, took action to demolish it, and cleaned the contaminated soils, but this is not an uncommon situation. Many municipalities and school districts have identified and dealt with similarly contaminated playgrounds. Here’s why: CCA has been widely used for many decades as a pesticide and wood preservative in the making of pressure-treated lumber to prolong the life of outdoor structures. It was phased out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 for any residential or public applications. However, any structure that utilized this treatment formulation may have leached these chemical compounds into the adjacent soil, thereby causing a level of contamination that could be harmful to humans and wildlife.
Threat to Health
Arsenic – the most troublesome component of the CCA formulation – is toxic to skin and internal organs and is known to be a carcinogen. At high doses, arsenic is a poison that can cause acute organ damage and can even be fatal. However, the levels of exposure possible from arsenic in pressure-treated wood are too low to cause an acute effect. The major health concerns require long-term exposure through daily contact, but under certain circumstances, such chronic exposure can lead to cancer or other organ health effects. Exposure to the arsenic typically occurs through contact with the surface of the wood structure and the top layer of soil or surface material directly beneath such a playscape. Some states have recommended sealing wood structures every two years to reduce the potential for arsenic leaching; however, the only way to eliminate the potential for contamination is to remove the source completely. Such concerns are not limited to playscape structures. CCA-treated lumber may have been used in any structure or hardscape, such as picnic tables, decks, walkways, patios, fencing, landscaping timbers, and boardwalks.
What You Can Do
If you suspect that your community or school has a treated-wood structure that was built before 2003, it would be prudent to have the soils and wood surface tested. If contamination is present, take action. As noted above, this situation is not new, so the processes for assessment, analysis and resolution are well defined. The greater challenge is the identification of these structures and the determination to do the right thing for the health and welfare of our communities and our citizens. At AKT Peerless, we address projects with this exact scope regularly. We would welcome the opportunity to help any municipality, school district or community with identifying and resolving any problem that may arise from CCA-treated wood structures. Our specialty is helping to build sustainable communities, and our commitment to our communities is strong. If you have questions about a potential CCA-treated wood structure, please call AKT Peerless at 800-985-7633.
About the Author
Sean D. Robinson, CHMM, is a Project Manager & Group Leader for AKT Peerless and has served the company since 1999. Sean manages environmental due diligence, regulatory compliance and redevelopment project needs for private and public-sector clients, though his specialty is trouble-shooting and remedying challenging environmental issues. He also directs a staff of AKT Peerless’ environmental professionals spanning a wide array of environmental assessments, compliance, remediation and redevelopment projects.
About AKT Peerless
We are environmental consultants, building scientists and redevelopment experts who are proud to help build sustainable communities. We provide environmental, energy and sustainability, economic development, and construction loan services that are tailored to the needs of each of our clients, private and public sectors alike. And we empower our people to engage, at work and in our communities, to make a difference. Call us at 800-985-7633 to arrange a free consultation.