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Oldsmar tests playground soil

The city is worried that arsenic may be leaking out of the wood used to build Friendship Playground, the centerpiece of waterfront R.E. Olds Park.

By ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


The city is worried that arsenic may be leaking out of the wood used to build Friendship Playground, the centerpiece of waterfront R.E. Olds Park.

OLDSMAR -- The city has ordered tests for the soil around Friendship Playground because of concerns that arsenic may be leaking out of the pressure-treated wood used to build the playground.

Oldsmar is testing the soil as a result of a March 11 St. Petersburg Times story that detailed levels of arsenic found at five Tampa Bay area parks. Commissioned by the Times, Thornton Labs of Tampa found arsenic levels that were higher than what the state considers safe in every case. Oldsmar's Friendship Playground was not one of those the Times tested.

The arsenic comes from chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, a pesticide that's infused into the wood to make it last longer.

"Who would have ever figured that?" asked Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "Why are they putting arsenic in there in the first place? Putting arsenic in playgrounds, what a moronic thing to do. There is no justified explanation for that."

Oldsmar is not the only local government planning to test the soil around a municipal playground. Officials in Tarpon Springs and Tampa have closed playgrounds pending test results. Crystal River and New Port Richey also have said they will test for arsenic levels.

Beverland said he immediately thought about Friendship Playground after reading the story. Beverland said one of the first things he did after winning the election earlier this month was to make sure the tests were being performed.

"When I saw the first story, I said, "Geesh,' " Beverland said. "The stories are directly responsible" for the tests.

The city took five soil samples from throughout the playground last week and sent them to be tested, which should take a few weeks, said Parks and Recreation director Lynn Rives. The city used pressure-treated lumber to build the playground in 1992, but it is not clear whether the wood contained CCA.

"If we find anything, then we will do more thorough testing," Rives said.

Every year except one, the city has sealed the playground's wood with a sealant to make it last longer and to protect it from the elements, Rives said. The sealant "evidently stops some of the leaching, from what I understand," he said.

On March 11, however, the Times reported that it is debatable how much it helps to treat CCA-infused wood regularly with a sealant. A Consumer Product Safety Commission study found that sealants didn't keep the arsenic from leaching out.

In Tarpon Springs, Discovery Playground has been temporarily closed while city and state officials look into the potential dangers. Thornton Labs found that the soil at Discovery had arsenic levels of 5.4 parts per million. The state considers levels of 0.8 parts per million or lower to be safe for neighborhoods. Exposure to arsenic can cause cancer.

State and federal regulators can't say how much risk the arsenic leaking out of the wood poses to children and adults. The wood-treatment industry says its own studies show the wood is safe.

Friendship Playground, the centerpiece of waterfront R.E. Olds Park, was built by local volunteers and others who poured into the city from St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa. The huge wooden structure is 13,500 square feet and has swings, slides, sandboxes and hanging bridges.

Rives said it is too soon to say whether the playground in Oldsmar needs to be closed. Even if the tests show levels of arsenic, the city can look into other options, such as replacing the soil around the playground.

"It's just better to test and make sure the people are aware of the level, if any, and let them know what we are doing," Rives said.

"It gives people more peace of mind."

- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.

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