The American Chemistry Council, an organization representing the U.S. chemical industry, tested the soil at the Cedar and Rose Park playground in north Berkeley Thursday, to determine whether the site is contaminated with arsenic.
The sampling plan of the laboratory commissioned by ACC to do the analysis indicates that the Berkeley park is one of only five playgrounds throughout the country to be tested. The ACC was not available for comment.
City officials say the testing may be related to the nationwide controversy surrounding the safety of wooden play structures treated with a preservative made of chromium, copper and arsenic (CCA). In Berkeley, at least four parks, including Cedar and Rose present risks of arsenic poisoning.
“They clearly decided to do it because there was all this brouhaha,” said Nabil Al-Hadithy, manager of the Toxics Management Division.
The brouhaha started last March when three parks were closed in Miami because arsenic leaching from CCA-treated wooden play structures was found in the soil. Florida citizens’ concern quickly grew into a national worry. And in May, the Environmental Working group and the Healthy Building Network asked the government to ban the use of CCA-treated wood in playgrounds.
According to the study the two groups made public in Berkeley that same month, a 5-year-old child exposed to that kind of equipment for five hours a day, would reach his or her lifetime acceptable load of arsenic in fewer than 14 days. The health risks of such exposure include lung, bladder, and skin cancer.
The EWG/HBN report brought to light the negligence of the city in meeting the codes adopted in 1987 by the California Department of Health Services. According to these codes the arsenic-treated play structures have to be coated with sealant every two years, but Berkeley did it for a couple of years only.
After the study was made public, Parks and Waterfront Department Director Lisa Caronna, immediately addressed the issue. She had the hazardous structures coated and plans to replace them within five years. However, officials fear that contaminants have leached into the soil during the years the structures were not protected.
“The concern is the dusting and the fact that with the run off the soil is contaminated too, because there was a long period of time when it wasn’t coated and the sealant was lost,” said L.A. Wood, vice chair of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, who attended Thursday’s sample collection.
The results of the American Chemistry Council’s soil analysis should be available within two and one-half weeks. But to the city, the ACC’s findings make little difference. Caronna said she was pleased that the ACC, unlike other organizations in the past, informed the city of the testing and asked officials to supervise the sample collection. But she added that it will not influence city policies – the Parks Department will soon do an independent and thorough soil analysis.
“From our perspective, we want to know if there is any other site that presents a danger,” she said.
The testing should be done in the next couple of months if the City Council approves the recommendation that the Community Environmental Advisory Commission will present to it July 17.
Among other things, the commission requests the city replace all CCA-treated structures, test all playgrounds with treated wood, and address the problem of Berkeley’s non city-owned playgrounds, including those belonging to the school district, private schools and day care centers.