Arsenic Exposure

Arsenic from treated timber used extensively in playgrounds all over Australia, is easily transferred to children at a higher rate than previously thought. The arsenic leaches out of the wood as it deteriorates. Children aged three to five years old are at the greatest risk, because of the hand to mouth behaviour that children of this age engage in. The arsenic can be absorbed via the mouth, or through the skin.In general, children absorb more poison than adults because they are more likely to be on the ground and in contact with the timber, and they have a decreased capacity to metabolise the toxins. Cancer is among the health risks associated with arsenic exposure.

Arsenic-laced timber is currently freely available at hardware outlets and still popularly used in decking, garden edging, fencing, outdoor furniture, steps, railings, swings, retaining walls, power poles, picnic tables, posts and vineyard trellises.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has banned the use of copper-chrome arsenate-treated timber in all new playgrounds and picnic areas.

Minimising Exposure

To minimise children's exposure, make sure theywash their hands thoroughly after touching the timber (being out in the garden, or in a playground) and before eating or drinking.

A short-term strategy is to paint the timber, but this masks the nature of the timber when it comes to disposing of it. Arsenic treated timber cannot be safely burned, or re used. Putting up a notice in a playground or picnic area warning parents that they and their children need to wash their hands before eating and drinking is probably safer than painting the timber.

Arsenic exposure can be measured via a Hair Mineral Analysis, which we do in our clinics. It involves sending a small sample of hair to a US laboratory.  Some children and adults show ongoing exposure to arsenic, and others don’t. Some people are better at excreting heavy metals and chemicals than others. If there is an excess of arsenic in a hair sample, it's important to identify where the exposure is coming from. Once the source of the toxicity is identified and eliminated, there are some simple ways of encouraging the body to excrete the toxin.

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