Arsenic: quiet playground killer
By Eric Pianin
Children who repeatedly come in contact with playground equipment and floors made of arsenic-treated wood face an increased risk of developing cancer.
A new study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests the risk to children is considerably greater than the agency indicated last year, when it ordered arsenic-treated products to be taken off the market.
While US manufacturers have agreed to stop using arsenic-treated wood, dangerous products remain in many public playgrounds and backyards.
The preliminary findings released on Thursday show that 90 per cent of children repeatedly exposed to arsenic-treated wood face a greater than one in a million risk of cancer - the EPA's threshold of concern about the effects of toxic chemicals.
The problem appears to be greater in the warmer southern states, where children tend to spend more time playing outdoors. There, 10 per cent of all children face a cancer risk 100 times higher than children in the general population, according to a review of the EPA data by the Environmental Working Group.
EPA officials cautioned that the findings were preliminary and were subject to a review next month by the agency's scientific advisory panel.
But the draft's "probabilistic exposure assessment" contradicts the agency's assurances last year that existing arsenic-treated wood products did not pose a serious public risk.
In February 2002, the EPA and the chemical and home-improvement industries announced a two-year phasing-out of the use of arsenic-based preservatives in pressure-treated wood widely used for fences, floors and playgrounds.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and some experts and environmentalists have long suspected that children who repeatedly came in contact with the preservative faced a heightened risk of developing cancer of the lungs, bladder or skin.
The Washington Post, November 15, 2003
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/14/1068674380304.html
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