Arsenic Poisoning:

Being Safe Around Arsenic

By Dr. Ben Kim
DrBenKim.com

As my wife and I sanded the trim around our windows before painting this past summer, I was reminded of the potential danger of arsenic exposure around homes and playgrounds. For the past seven decades, a form of arsenic has been used as a pesticide in pressure treated wood used for playground sets, picnic tables, and wooden decks and porches. The concern is that arsenic – a known carcinogen – can rub off of treated wood and be ingested with hand to mouth contact. Considering that children touch their mouths sixteen times per hour when they are out playing, this is an important issue for all families to consider.

Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of arsenic-containing wood for homes and playgrounds on January 1, 2004, approximately 70% of homes and 14% of playgrounds in the States still have decks, porches, and play structures that contain arsenic. I haven't been able to find out the percentages for Canada, but I would imagine that they are similar.

Although a high enough exposure to arsenic can cause immediate death, the concern with arsenic found around homes and playgrounds is chronic, low grade exposure that contributes to disease over many years.

Here’s what you can do to minimize your exposure to arsenic in pressure treated wood:

1. Have your children understand the importance of washing their hands after they have played on or around a playground with pressure treated wood. Canadian researchers have found that washing with water alone is enough to remove arsenic from children’s hands.

2. Be sure to use a tablecloth if you choose to eat at a picnic table made of pressure treated wood. Better yet, don’t eat at a picnic table made of pressure treated wood, as chances are good that your hands will pick up some arsenic.

3. Be sure to wear gloves, goggles, and preferably a mask if you sand or do any work with pressure treated wood.

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