© St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- For nearly a year, state Rep. Larry Crow of Palm Harbor has been trying to ban arsenic-treated wood from Florida's public playgrounds.
On Tuesday, his bill died at its first committee hearing after representatives from the wood-treatment industry and their allies turned out in force to oppose it.
Even Crow's fellow Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee sided with the industry. The bill died on a 6-3 vote.
"I believe this is a children's safety issue," Crow pleaded. "If you don't protect these children, their blood will be on your hands."
In many playgrounds in Florida, pressure-treated lumber is leaking arsenic into playground soil. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are investigating the wood's safety.
Crow said he may file a new bill that he said would "actively fight the industry."
To the $4-billion-a-year wood-treatment industry, Florida is a key battleground: More arsenic-treated wood is sold here than anywhere else in the United States. On Tuesday, industry representatives said the levels of arsenic in playground soils are low, and there is no evidence that it harms children.
The industry brought considerable political muscle to Tallahassee to oppose the bill, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Forestry Association, the American Wood Preservers Institute, the Florida Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Florida Building Materials Association, and several prominent wood-treaters, including Jay Robbins of Robbins Manufacturing in Tampa.
Wood-treaters also hired high-profile lobbying firm Hopping, Green, Sams & Smith.
Dozens of wood-based playgrounds have closedin Florida. But most panel members said they don't perceive a problem.
Rep. Marty Bowen, R-Haines City, who voted against the bill, said the definition of a poison is in the eye of the beholder.
"If my information is correct, fluoride is a poison, and it's put in the water all the time," Bowen said.
Nursery grower Dwight Stansel, D-Wellborn, also voted against the bill. He said he has "not heard of anyone who's been sick from this product."
Some people have settled lawsuits with the industry after being poisoned by the arsenic.
But Rep. Cindy Lerner, D-Miami, accused the industry of bending the truth.
"This reminds me of the tobacco industry," she said. "You are on notice that you are using a highly toxic carcinogen. Your day will come."