A Special Report: The poison in your back yard
St. Petersburg Time
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Sierra Lance, 9 months, plays recently on the "Monster Truck" in Tampa's Al Lopez Park. Soil tests there also were positive for arsenic.
Arsenic is in the pressure-treated wood used to build decks, docks, gazebos and children's play sets. With evidence mounting that the poison can leak out, some people ask: Is it time to switch to a safer alternative?

In bug-filled Florida, pressure-treated lumber has been a modern miracle. It stands up to termites, beetles and the rot that comes from relentless humidity. Every day, the lumber flies out of home-improvement stores to become boardwalks, backyard gazebos, picnic tables, decks, docks and playgrounds.

But now, it turns out, pressure-treated wood might be Florida's newest environmental hazard

All over the state, pressure-treated boards and posts are leaking poisonous arsenic into the soil. The arsenic comes from chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, a powerful pesticide brew that is injected into the boards to give them long life against the elements.

Arsenic is leaking out of huge wooden playgrounds that volunteers built all over Tampa Bay. It's leaking beneath decks and state park boardwalks, at levels that are dozens of times -- even hundreds of times -- higher than the state considers safe. And discarded pressure-treated lumber is leaking arsenic out of unlined landfills, state experts say, posing a threat to drinking water.

If you've never heard of this before, you're not alone.

The poison in your back yard
Arsenic is in the pressure-treated wood used to build decks, docks, gazebos and children's play sets. (3/11)

Continuing Coverage

Study links cancer risk, pressure-treated playsets
A government commission finds increases in some types of cancer for children who play on the wood. [2/8/03]

Groups sue over arsenic use in wood
WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups and a union asked a federal court Tuesday to ban the use of several toxic materials in treated, pressurized wood products, saying the Environmental Protection Agency isn't moving quickly enough. [12/11]

Study finds wood leaking arsenic
TALLAHASSEE -- Sampling at wooden decks, picnic tables and playgrounds in Florida and 40 other states shows that pressure-treated wood leaks high levels of arsenic, no matter how old the deck is, a national environmental group's report says. [8/29]

Panel downplays arsenic-treated wood
The conclusion, reached by six doctors, contradicts an expert who says treated play sets pose a danger to children. [8/8]

Beware the picnic table
The lumber industry is pulling arsenic-treated wood off the market, but what should homeowners do with decks, playsets and other items already in their back yards? [6/15]

Lumber companies agree to arsenic ban
One lawmaker says consumers still don't have enough guidance, while some in the treated-wood industry grumble that the ban is not needed. [2/13]

European Union considers ban on arsenic-treated wood
The European Union is considering banning arsenic-treated wood in its 15 member countries after concluding that "the risks to human health might be greater than previously thought." [2/3]

Woodmakers talk of ending use of arsenic
The poisonous pesticide can leach into back yards and playgrounds, with uncertain effects on children. [1/23]

Lumber in city parks might be replaced
TREASURE ISLAND -- After finding arsenic and chromium deposits in the soil of three city playgrounds -- many times more than the state allows when polluters clean up neighborhoods -- commissioners will be asked tonight to replace all of the wooden equipment at their parks. [1/2]

Arsenic arrives in 'toxic trade'
The United States is the world's No. 1 arsenic consumer, and China provides most of it. [12/29]

Children need tests for harm from arsenic, scientists say
TALLAHASSEE -- A national panel of scientists says the government should test children to see if they have been exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic while playing on pressure-treated wooden playgrounds and decks. [12/19]

Wave of opponents kills Crow's treated-wood bill
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. [11/28]

Congress prods EPA to review arsenic risk
A measure sets a Feb. 15 deadline for the agency to tell communities whether arsenic-treated lumber is safe. [11/10]

Groups: Stop selling arsenic-treated wood
Home Depot and Lowe's have no plans to cease carrying the lumber. [11-8-2001]

Alachua closes 5 play sites with arsenic
Officials shut down five playgrounds after finding dirt with the toxic substance that leaked from treated lumber. [9/27]

U.S. tests for arsenic in playgrounds set
The tests come as those in the pressure-treated wood industry face lawsuits over their product. [9/26]

EPA wants arsenic warnings on wood
The Consumer Product Safety Commission also will seek public comment on a petition to ban CCA-treated wood. [7/4]

Treated wood industry fights back
A maker of arsenic-treated wood hires a political gun to fend off more regulation. He may be making a difference. [7/2]

Arsenic-free wood available at Tampa store
For the first time, Tampa Bay consumers can buy pressure-treated lumber that doesn't have arsenic in it. But beware: It may cost as much as 50 percent more than regular pressure-treated wood, at least until more people start asking for it.

Treated lumber to get labels
Manufacturers vow to better inform consumers to wear protection. Critics: A voluntary program won't work. [6/8]

Crow takes aim at arsenic in wood
The legislator plans to introduce a bill that would ban arsenic-treated wood in playgrounds. [6/1]

Coalition: Ban treated wood
The groups also want a new study to see how much of a risk the arsenic-treated lumber poses to children. [5/24]

Playground to close in June for work
While the Crystal River playground is closed, the city will replace mulch that contains more arsenic than the state considers safe. [5/12]

EPA to rush arsenic-risk report
Some guidance for parents worried about pressure-treated wooden playgrounds could come as soon as next month. [5/11]

Arsenic risk baffles Florida officials
State agencies cannot say how much arsenic in treated wood presents a health risk to children. [4/26]

Bush plan on arsenic opposed
TALLAHASSEE -- A plan by Gov. Jeb Bush to get the state's wood treatment plant to stop using arsenic as a preservative is running into trouble in the Florida Legislature.

Arsenic decision is final
After closing and reopening Pasco school playgrounds, officials err on the side of caution and close them for the rest of the school year. [4/24]

Test shows higher arsenic levels
An independent test commissioned by the city reveals levels 17 times higher than the state considers safe. [4/20]

Touching treated wood may pose risk
Normal contact with the wood used for playgrounds can give kids unacceptable doses of arsenic, an expert hired by the state says. [4/18]

Denial heats up arsenic debate
Experts take issue with a wood company executive's testimony that his lumber doesn't contain the toxin, which can leach into the soil. [4/16]

Playground ruled safe for children
Arsenic levels pose little risk, a consultant finds, and the Sunshine Playground will reopen soon. [4/14]

Fear of arsenic shuts playground
Test results prompt the closure, and officials at the Long Center are unsure how long it will last. [4/4]

Arsenic in ground has many secrets
Tarpon workers and experts say they were in "uncharted territory" when faced with the question of how harmful arsenic was at Discovery Playground. [4/1]

DEP backs off defense of arsenic in wood
TALLAHASSEE -- A few days ago, the spokeswoman for the state's environmental agency tried to reassure Floridians worried about the arsenic leaking out of pressure-treated wood. [3/29]

Ban sought on arsenic-treated wood in state's playgrounds
A lawmaker says he will offer a bill in the House to keep arsenic-treated wood out of playgrounds. (3/28)

Arsenic level is deemed harmless
A playground where soil tests found high levels of arsenic is reopened. Officials say not enough of the element is present to harm children.

Long Center to test playground
Sunshine Playground will stay open until results come back, the center's executive director says. (3/23)

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. (3/22)

Park to remain open despite arsenic threat
A county Health Department official says there is little chance of being poisoned by tainted playground soil. (March 21, 2000)

Crystal River to test for arsenic
Officials are concerned about the chemical's levels in the city playground and other assorted public wooden structures. (3/17)

What to do about arsenic?
With concerns growing over treated wood used in play sets and decks, we look at health questions you may have. (3/16)

Tampa Parks Department makes Al Lopez playgrounds off-limits
TAMPA -- At Al Lopez Park, there wasn't much fun to be had Thursday.

Arsenic worries growing
Tarpon Springs knew of arsenic: The city detected it in soil near its just-closed playground more than a month ago but decided there was no immediate risk. (3/15)

Tampa to test park
A Times test at the Al Lopez Park playground showed levels the state considers unsafe. The poison comes from treated wood.

Bush wants state to stop using arsenic in wood
Reports of arsenic leaching out of treated lumber close playground. (3/14)

Arsenic levels surprise many
Crystal River says CCA-treated wood in its playground and other structures may need testing. (3/13)

Back to Top
© Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.