Keep kids safe. Test your park's wooden play equipment.

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For decades nearly all outdoor wooden structures—play sets, picnic tables, fences, decks—were made with pressure-treated wood injected with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This insecticide and preservative is 22 percent pure arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also cause nerve damage. The problem is that arsenic can leach from wood onto kids’ hands and into the soil below. Making matters worse, arsenic leaching doesn't decrease with time. Structures that are 15 years old release just as much arsenic as newer ones.

With studies showing that soil from 40 percent of U.S. backyards and parks exceeded EPA's Superfund levels for hazardous waste cleanup, manufacturers agreed to halt production of CCA-treated wood for home use and playgrounds beginning in 2004, though they were allowed to sell existing stock. If your kids are regulars at the neighborhood playground (or your family enjoys picnics in the park) and the play equipment, tables and benches are made of wood, test them to see if they are leaching arsenic. Test kits are available for $20 from The Safe Playgrounds Project. Test during dry weather, because rain can wash surface arsenic away.

If the tests turn up arsenic, talk to the city parks department about a plan for replacing or sealing arsenic-treated wood. If officials are already taking action, find out how often they reseal, what kind of sealant is used, and how any future demolition will be handled. Wood should be sealed with a solid or semitransparent deck stain; AFM Safecoat recommends low-VOC Durostain with low-VOC Safecoat Watershield (www.afmsafecoat.com). Organize a volunteer day at your local park or playground to seal all arsenic-treated wood. This should be done at least once a year.

Until the park equipment is safe, be vigilant about contact with treated lumber, and wash hands thoroughly afterward. Don't allow food anywhere near treated surfaces such as old picnic tables.