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High Arsenic Levels Found in Parks

March 22, 2001

MIAMI (AP) _ Sections of three Miami-area parks were closed after researchers’ found that poisonous arsenic had leached into the soil from pressure-treated wood.

A study by the University of Miami and the University of Florida also found an average of 28 parts per million of arsenic in soil sampled from sites across the state, far above the level of 0.8 parts per million the state’s Department of Environmental Protection considers safe.

The arsenic comes from wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, a powerful pesticide injected into the lumber to protect it against termites, beetles and humidity.

The chemical is widely used in Florida because of the state’s humidity, and is found in wood sold across the country. But it has been banned in several countries as a potential environmental hazard, authorities say.

A small dose of arsenic can be fatal, and long-term exposure can cause cancer, but scientists and researchers are not sure whether contact with arsenic leaching out of posts and lumber is hazardous.

Also in response to the study, officials in Gainesville said they would immediately remove wooden equipment and soil from a University of Florida child care center. University researchers tested 12 soil samples and nine showed positive readings for arsenic. Six registered high levels.

Gov. Jeb Bush said last week he wants Florida’s wood-treatment plant in Raiford, north of Gainesville, to stop using arsenic as a preservative. The state’s top environmental official, David Struhs, is asking the Legislature for $500,000 in this year’s budget so the plant can switch to arsenic-free treatment.

The Environmental Protection Agency banned most arsenic pesticides years ago but made an exception for pressure-treated wood. The wood industry says its studies show the wood is safe.

Switzerland, Vietnam and Indonesia have banned CCA-treated wood. Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Australia and New Zealand have limited or proposed restrictions for it.

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