A shocking new study shows devastating arsenic readings in city playgrounds -- the legacy of pressure-treated wood. The city says there's nothing to be alarmed about, but it's obviously scrambling. Monday we caught a contractor taking a soil sample at one of the hot spots. Are our kids safe?
Health problems linked to repeated low-level exposure to arsenic: cardiovascular disease, anemia, increased risk of skin cancer and tumours of the bladder, kidney, liver and lungs
Number of times three-year-olds put their hands in their mouth: 9.5 to 20 times an hour*
Amount of soil three-year-olds can ingest per day: 400 mg*
Number of Toronto playgrounds with arsenic-treated wood playground equipment: 217
Number tested by Environmental Defence Canada (formerly CELA): 35
Number of these with arsenic levels above the federal guideline of 12 parts per million: 24
Number with arsenic levels more than double the federal guideline: 24
Playgrounds cited in Environmental Defence's study:
Thorncrest, Dufferin Grove, Mossgrove, Elm, Futura, Norseman, Keele/Mulock, Cedarvale, Gladhurst, Pelmo, Wells Hill, Dovercourt, Ted Reeve, Norwood, Muirhead, Talara, Grange, Shawnee, Swanek, Pinto, Martin Goodman, Bayview Village, Sentinel, Old Sheppard
Average level of arsenic found generally in soil: 4 to 6 ppm
Average level of arsenic found in Toronto playgrounds: 22.7 ppm
What the city says
The risk of illness from exposure to chemicals leaching from playground equipment is "low."
(The city's own soil sampling, however, has found arsenic levels above federal guidelines in 31 playgrounds. Because of health concerns, the city has dismantled 42 play structures constructed with arsenic-treated wood since 2001.)
What the board of health says
Long-term exposure to arsenic-treated wood may cause chronic health problems;
Parents should ensure that children wash their hands or have them cleaned thoroughly with a wet wipe after playing on arsenic-treated structures.
What Environmental Defence recommends
The city seal all arsenic-treated wood playgrounds before spring;
Replace contaminated sand around playground equipment;
Develop a plan to replace arsenic-treated wood equipment.
What Health Canada is recommending
Discontinuation of the use of arsenic in pressure-treated wood for new structures "that are likely to provide repeated and long-term contact and exposure to the general public."
What the city's economic development and parks committee recommended last year
That council spend $300,000 on oil-based sealant to reduce risk of exposure to arsenic.
What council has agreed to do instead
Spend $90,000 to study soil at 82 playgrounds;
Spend $10,000 on a communications strategy to respond to public inquiries.
Why eco activists are doubly concerned
There are no guidelines or standards for arsenic levels on treated wood surfaces; characteristically, the cumulative levels of arsenic, copper and chromate range from 7,800 to 78,000 ppm.
What the wood manufacturing industry is doing
Phasing out the use of arsenic for treatment of wood used in residential construction.
* according to studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency