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posted April-May 2003

Arsenic in the playground?

In the last newsletter we reported on the findings of Environmental Defense Canada concerning the levels of leached arsenic from pressure-treated wood in city playgrounds. Their report listed our park as the second-highest in Toronto, showing 48.2 parts per million of arsenic in the sand surrounding our playground climber. At the time of that newsletter the city was just putting the finishing touches on their report about arsenic levels, based on testing that had been done all over the city during the previous summer. The City of Toronto results turned out to be quite different from those of Environmental Defense. They showed our playground as having arsenic levels much lower than the federal government's safe limit. Our levels were listed as 6 parts per million.

Since we have a pressure-treated playground structure, that finding is just as puzzling as the first one. We spoke to Steve Ruminsky, a Richmond Hill environmental consultant from Decommissioning Consulting Services Limited, which did the city's study. He said that whereas the Environmental Defense study was based on taking one soil sample per site (which that group admitted is not considered adequate as a research method), his company took 6 samples per site. These were: one composite soil sample taken from 10 locations directly under the play structure, two soil samples around the structure, one control sample ten metres away from the structure, and two surface samples ("dislodgable particles") taken from the structure itself, one on a hand rail and one on a vertical post.

We asked Mr.Ruminsky why our treated wood structure would be so low in its leaching of arsenic if treated wood has been banned from sale in most of North America. He said he didn't know, although it's possible that older structures gradually have less arsenic to leach (ours was put up in 1984). We asked him how much it would cost to re-test our playground. He said the actual lab cost is $18 a sample. The technician to collect the 6 new samples would cost between $500 and $600, and the interpretation of the results would bring the consulting company's fee up to $1000 plus lab costs. Whew!


Next we asked Mine Elbe at Environmental Defense whether they might be interested in re-testing our playground. She said yes. They would be willing to cover the cost of 3 soil samples plus one control sample. As soon as the date and time is set for testing (there may be several different dates because Mine is interested in testing before and after a rainfall to see if that makes a difference to the results), we'll post that information on the web site. Anyone who wants to see how the testing is done can be there. (If you want to be notified by e-mail, get on the "kids" park list by e-mailing

And if there seems to be a need to paint our playground structure with a wood sealant to protect the children playing on it, park manager James Dann has said that the city would pay for the materials if we want to have a playground-user painting day. (Could be fun, with a campfire lunch and games for kids off to the side).

City news release of January 24, 2003.

Integrated Management Plan on CCA Treated-Wood Play Structures at City Playgrounds

List of Playgrounds with CCA Treated Wood that require Remedial Action

Comparison of Environmental Defence Canada findings and City Study Results

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