Potential health risks at Patriarche Park

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By Jaclyn McNeal
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

The discovery of a toxic chemical used to treat wood in the playground equipment of Patriarche Park leads to questions about health risks from both city officials and residents.

After raising $60,000 in pledges and recruiting 500 volunteers, the East Lansing Rotary Club’s 50th anniversary celebration project, the renovation of the Patriarche Park playground, was put on hold after an East Lansing resident became aware of the project and suggested the committee look into whether the playground was built with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) treated wood.

Tim McCaffrey, director of the East Lansing Parks and Recreation Department as well as president of the East Lansing Rotary Club, confirmed that upon hiring a firm to test wood
samples, traces of CCA were indeed found.

According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s website, CCA has been used to pressure treat lumber since the 1940s but is no longer being produced for use in most residential settings, including playgrounds, as it has now been classified as a restricted use product.

The banners pictured above have been replaced by notices posted throughout the playground warning residents of potential health risks caused by CCA.

The banners pictured above have been replaced by notices posted throughout the playground warning residents of potential health risks caused by CCA.

Robert Sills, the toxic unit supervisor of air quality division of the Department of Environmental Quality, said that although there is a slight risk of contamination from the chemical, it is not high enough to discontinue use of the playground.

“CCA chemicals are chemically bound in the wood,” Sills said. “They aren’t on the surface of the wood or free to evaporate out of the wood. With that said, they can leach out into surrounding soil or water, but at a very low level.”

Sills continued to say that even if children are in direct contact with the wood, CCA wouldn’t be directly absorbed from it.

“The exposure potential is not zero,” he said. “But it’s very low and would be a very slight health risk.”

According to Sills, simple precautions taken by parents are the best ways to prevent contamination.

The original banners announcing the renovation of the playground in Patriarche Park by the East Lansing Rotary Club.

“It’s never a good idea to put food in direct contact with treated wood and then eat the food,” Sills said. “It’s common sense things.”

Sills also recommended that if children get splinters from the equipment that parents watch for excessive irritation or inflammation as treated wood will enhance these reactions.

“It’s also always a good idea to wash hands after playing,” Sills added.

McCaffrey said the city is continuing to do more testing to see if there is anything more problematic in the wood.

“We’re continuing to find out if there’s a health risk as well as trying to evaluate whether Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that suggest sealing the wood structure to reduce health risks is something we want to do,” McCaffrey said. “We want to make sure we’re accurate on what we determine is the best way to move forward.”

McCaffrey added that they’re in the process of gathering numbers to compare the cost of sealing the structure to the cost of completely removing it.

Marcus Cheatham, public information officer for the Ingham County Health Department, stated that while more careful upkeep of the equipment is advised by the EPA, that nothing in the law requires East Lansing to do anything about the CCA.

Margie Clark, a Lansing resident who brought her children to Patriarche Park when they were young, said that she will continue bringing her grandchildren as well, despite the discovery of CCA in the playground.

“I feel like we don’t need to be quite as concerned as what they get,” Clark said. “They put up alarm systems that aren’t necessary and it’s great that they want to be safe, but let’s not go overboard.”

“I’m not going to tell my grandchildren that we can’t play here anymore,” she added.

Adrienne Monaham, a nanny in East Lansing who frequents Patriarche Park, said she has enough hesitations that she won’t be back until it’s officially cleared.

“I understand that people’s knowledge changes and that CCA used to be alright in the past, but I probably won’t come back until it’s fixed,” she said.


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