Editorial: Use of arsenic must end

The makers of arsenic-treated lumber are discussing alternatives to using the poisonous treatment. This decision is long overdue and should have been addressed during Ronald Reagan’s presidency when he made exemptions for companies that produced the wood after it was deemed a hazardous material.

Florida is a major consumer of arsenic-treated lumber and uses much of it to create playgrounds. Arsenic is used to protect the wood from bugs and weather. However, the arsenic can leach into the soil and can also come off on people’s hands. This information is not new. The Environmental Protection Agency said pressure-treated lumber is toxic enough to be classified as hazardous waste. Then-President Reagan gave the lumber industry a special exemption so it could continue manufacturing the wood, and now many Floridians worry that wood thrown into unlined dumps may leak into the water supply.

Thus, several wood manufacturers are beginning to use new treatments that are not dangerous, such as a boron compound or a compound called ACQ.

One company, Leathers & Associates, has promised to build new playgrounds using such materials and has begun to remove soil from playgrounds that have tested for arsenic. Other companies are facing lawsuits and plan to remove soil and stop using arsenic-treated lumber soon.

But these changes should have been addressed long ago. Decades of using the lumber may have caused problems for thousands of children and others who came into contact with the wood, as well as the possibility of arsenic poisoning the water supply. The new compounds being approved for wood treatment should be tested to ensure they pose no health risks to people or the environment before employed by distributors. The EPA should have done a better job in keeping such hazardous materials out of the consumer market and especially away from children.