Playing it Safe with Treated Lumber

Some structures like playground, picnic tables, and outside benches may be hazardous to children’s health depending on the materials used and when built.
Playing it Safe with Treated Lumber - Articles

Updated: September 4, 2012

Playing it Safe with Treated Lumber

Many of these structures are built with treated wood, which contains chemicals to protect it from the elements and insects. Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), a wood preservative containing chromium, copper and arsenic, has been used to pressure treat lumber since the 1940s. Arsenic is a toxic chemical element that can be absorbed into the body through ingestion and inhalation. The arsenic from these products can also leach into the soil and ground water supply. Children playing on CCA treated wood can unknowingly expose themselves to arsenic by putting their hands in their mouths after touching treated surfaces. Arsenic exposure has been linked to stomach and intestinal irritation, developmental effects, a variety of cancers and infertility in women.

The use of CCA on wood used in residential construction such as children's playgrounds and decks was phased out in 2004, but structures built prior to this time are still health concerns. So what do you do if you suspect your playground equipment might contain CCA treated wood?

  • Have the wood tested. Contact the Center for Environmental Health for more information and instructions on testing suspected arsenic-treated materials.
  • Center for environmental health: Arsenic in Play Structures
  • Seal the treated wood twice a year with a water-based sealant.
  • Make sure children wash their hands when they are finished playing outside. Use soap and water and proper hand-washing techniques. Children should not put their hands in their mouths after touching CCA treated wood.
  • When eating at picnic tables, use a plastic tablecloth and don't let food come in contact with the wood surface.
  • Replace treated wood with safer alternatives. Do not allow the treated wood to be sanded, cut or burned. Dispose of it at a hazardous waste site.