(Host) With the prospect of warmer weather approaching, commentator Ruth Page says that if you have pressure-treated wood in or around your home, you might want to add a new item to your list of spring chores.
(Page) Standard pressure-treated wood is dangerous. The arsenic used in it can escape, and when children handle it — say on a swing, or sitting on the porch floor — if they put their hands in their mouths they can ingest the stuff. With spring coming, that’s worth serious thought.
For years, we’ve all been warned about the dangers of pressure-treated wood. The wood has commonly been used in all sorts of situations. Those of concern are the ones that children use most: playground equipment, swings, porches and decks, fences they like to climb, and so on.
Some 90 percent of such wood is infused with pesticides and arsenic to keep out insects such as termites, as well as microbes and fungus. Unfortunately, there’s no lock on the prison door to keep these things in; arsenic leaches out the most readily.
Tots who crawl about on wooden porches, and older children who like to play on covered porches when it’s raining out, are the most likely to be affected. In 2001, the arsenic mix called CCA contained 40 million pounds of arsenic and 64 million of chromium. Both of course are toxic, but the chromium is less likely to leach out.
Although the EPA approved pressure-treating wood years ago, the agency is now reevaluating it, and wood-preservative makers are phasing it out. As soon as the treated wood already in the pipeline is used up, no more will be available.
But what of all such wood already common in our homes, gardens, and parks? Many gardeners have used the treated wood for garden fences, handsome arbors to support climbing roses or grapevines, or to surround compost piles and raised beds. Play equipment in many of our parks, from sliding boards to swings, was made of wood treated with dangerous chemicals. At the time, it wasn’t known that they would leach out over time. Since the leaching is more rapid in hotter areas, people in the south are at somewhat greater risk.
Both the EPA and the Forest Service are doing research to discover sealants we could brush onto our older wood structures. Those would reliably lock in the dangerous substances. They say that paint works well, but they don’t know how long it lasts. They need to do some studies to see how often you’d need to repaint.
No one recommends tearing up the wood to get rid of it; that could cause it to release the dangerous chemicals in quantity, all at once. Seriously concerned parents might wish to paint the porch or garden furniture and play equipment until the government is able to issue a solid recommendation.
There are those who dispute the recent danger-assessments, saying they’re exaggerated. It’s true there are many variables, but most parents like to bend over backwards when their young children may be at risk.
This is Ruth Page in Shelburne.