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Check Your Yard for Pressure Treated Wood

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has  banned the use of a cancer-causing wood preservative. That’s the good news. 
The bad news is that the substance, known as CCA (for chromated copper arsenate), is embedded in 90% of all outdoor wooden structures, including decks and play equipment. If you have any outdoor wooden structures there is a good chance you’re within exposure distance to arsenic.  
So, if you’re thinking of refurbishing your deck instead of buying a new one, or have wood structures on your premises, learn to be aware of the hazards. Take reasonable steps to protect your family from unnecessary exposure to the arsenic that leaches from CCA-treated wood. 
Arsenic exposure from pressure treated wood MAY occur in the following ways:
  • Toys stored beneath the deck may collect arsenic that leaches each time it rains.
  • Do-It-Yourselfers expose themselves and others when they inhale arsenic-laced dust from sawn lumber.
  • Children may get exposed when they touch pressure-treated wooden surfaces.
  • Home gardeners who plant edible crops alongside decks can be exposed by ingesting contaminated food.
CCA-treated wood products will continue to be sold through the end of 2003. Major home supply retailers like Lowes and Home Depot already offer alternatives and prominently label CCA-laced products with warning labels, as advised by the EPA.
Should you replace your deck and outdoor equipment? Is the danger THAT high?
Yes and no. It depends on how you and your family use your outdoor wooden structures. 
Studies have clearly shown that unsafe levels of arsenic can be easily collected from even a casual touch of a CCA-treated surface. And arsenic has been linked to serious illnesses.  
Here are a few common sense steps to take:
  • Don’t let your kids play on wooden equipment while it’s still wet, after rain or immediately after washing the deck.
  • Under NO circumstances should you re-use or burn any leftover CCA-treated lumber purchased for a do-it-yourself project. Send it out with the trash.
  • Don’t store toys beneath the deck without covering them with a waterproof tarp.
  • Use a dust mask when sawing pressure treated wood.
  • Re-seal your deck annually, especially if it’s been recently sanded or refurbished.
  • Make regular hand-washing a family habit, especially after being outdoors.
  • If you plan to build a new deck or purchase new play equipment, be sure it’s not constructed of CCA-treated wood.
Finally, remain aware that the potency of the arsenic in treated wood products does not diminish over time. It will remain toxic as long as it’s on your property. 
For more information, see these EPA resources: