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Crow takes aim at arsenic in wood

The legislator plans to introduce a bill that would ban arsenic-treated wood in playgrounds.

By JANEL STEPHENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 1, 2001


The legislator plans to introduce a bill that would ban arsenic-treated wood in playgrounds.

TARPON SPRINGS -- During last spring's session of the Legislature, state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, tried to get a measure passed to ban the use of arsenic-treated wood at public playgrounds, but he said lobbyists successfully opposed the idea.

Crow hasn't given up.

Standing next to empty playground equipment at Tarpon Springs' Discovery Playground, Crow announced Thursday that he plans to introduce a bill for the next legislative session that would ban the use of arsenic-treated wood and mulch containing arsenic at public playgrounds.

"We need to definitively say that poison and playgrounds do not mix," he said.

Crow is developing the bill, which he said he plans to file within a month, in response to tests that have found high levels of chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, in lumber used to build local playgrounds. Exposure to arsenic can cause cancer.

The bill also would:

Establish a state Department of Health study commission that would "definitively assess the risk posed by arsenic."

Provide incentives for private industry to use arsenic-free methods for pressure-treating wood.

Develop a public-awareness campaign on the risks of CCA-treated lumber.

"I think if the public knew of the risk posed by CCA-treated lumber, then I think perhaps an intelligent consumer might say, "If there is a safe alternative, why shouldn't we use that?' " Crow said.

The arsenic-free treatment that is most widely available goes by the name ACQ. Crow said the state-run lumber plant at Raiford should switch to producing ACQ lumber, and he plans to ask the Legislature to appropriate the money for that change. Proceeds from the sale of that lumber, he said, could be used to provide private producers with incentives to produce arsenic-free lumber.

"I think a resolution to finding a problem has to be done first before putting any limitations on the use of CCA-treated wood," Crow said.

Discovery Playground was one of the first to be closed after the St. Petersburg Times reported in March that Thorton Laboratories of Tampa found soil at the park contained an arsenic level of 5.4 parts per million. A state standard for soil in residential areas considers levels of 0.8 parts per million or lower to be safe. The state's standard for industrial sites is 3.7 parts per million.

A sign that says "Park Closed for Maintenance" will remain on the playground's gates until the state Department of Environmental Protection releases "official standards" on acceptable levels for CCA, according to Juan Cruz, director of public services for Tarpon Springs.

"We are waiting for the DEP to furnish data that will let us know if the park is safe or unsafe," Cruz said. "Until then, it will remain closed."

The DEP is working with the state Department of Health to establish those standards, DEP spokeswoman Lucia Ross said. For now, though, there is no such standard for playgrounds or state parks.

Ross said officials have to consider each kind of site differently.

"The 0.8 parts per million cited in the study is for cleaning up soil in residential areas," Ross said. "The criterion was for a large site being contemplated for residential usage. This has led to confusion because some media is comparing this standard to parks and there is no set standards for parks. . . . It's like comparing apples to oranges."

Crow is not the only Florida lawmaker considering ways to educate the public about the risks of using CCA-treated lumber. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, is pushing to put warning labels on all pressure-treated lumber sold in the United States.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would will speed up its efforts to find out whether children face a risk from playing around pressure-treated lumber. In mid June, the agency is expected to come out with guidance on the risk the wood might pose to children.

-- Staff writer Julie Hauserman contributed to this report. Janel Stephens can be reached at (727) 445-4243.

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