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Written by: Eco-Healthy Child Care®

Arsenic is well-known as a poison.  At high doses, arsenic can be fatal, as any reader of murder mysteries can tell you.  But on-going, low-level exposures to arsenic can be harmful too.  Do you know where arsenic may lurk around your home or child care?

If you don’t know, don’t worry.  The Eco-Healthy Child Care® (EHCC) program can help you answer that question; EHCC also offers tips to help you keep arsenic out of your child’s world.

Arsenic, which occurs naturally in rock and soil, can be found in older pressure-treated wood or in tap water.  Pressure-treated wood sold before 2004 — wood used for outdoor uses, such as for playground sets, picnic tables, benches and decks  —   was usually treated with a compound that included arsenic. Over time, the compound degraded, and arsenic could leach out onto the wood’s surface or into the soil below.

Arsenic can also be found at high levels in some private wells, due to naturally-occurring minerals as well as from agriculture or industrial activities. A child would be exposed to arsenic in water by drinking water containing arsenic, but not from showering, bathing or washing with contaminated water.

Exposure to arsenic over a long period of time can threaten a child’s health.  The greatest concern is an increased risk of cancer. EHCC’s fact sheet on arsenic provides more information on other health effects.

Arsenic is colorless, tasteless and odorless.  When a child drinks arsenic-tainted water, or swallows or inhales arsenic dust from pressure-treated wood, the arsenic is readily absorbed and undetectable.

There are some simple things you can do to protect your children.

To avoid arsenic exposure from pressure treated wood:

• Encourage children to wash their hands with mild soap and water after playing on treated wood.

• Test for it!  Wood test kits are available for a fee from the Center for Environmental Health.
• Seal it (Apply 2 coats of waterproof stain or sealant on CCA-treated wood at least once a year.)

• Do not burn it, sand it or cut it.

• Do not power wash it.

To avoid arsenic exposure from tap water:

• If your water comes from a private well, call the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water hot-line (800-426-4791) to find certified water-testing labs in your area.   If high levels of arsenic are found, use a certified filter.

• If your water comes from a public water system, request a copy of the Consumer Confidence Report to verify system compliance with the maximum contaminant level set by your state’s drinking water laws.

For more information visit, ‘How can I reduce exposure to arsenic in CCA’?