Children Playing With Poison: Arsenic Exposure From CCA-treated Wood

Deborah L. Baptist,RN, BSN; Nan S Leslie, PhD,RN,WHNP


Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2008;4(1):48-53. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

The world of children can involve exposure to many hazards, including toxic chemicals found in the environment. Arsenic is one of those chemicals. Sources of such exposure include food, soil, water, and air. However, touching chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wooden structures or the soil surrounding them and then putting a finger in the mouth can raise a child's risk of arsenic poisoning. Nurse practitioners who provide routine care for children are in a position to assess their young patients for arsenic exposure and to initiate prevention strategies to protect children from exposure to this toxin. If the nurse practitioner suspects arsenic exposure or poisoning, she or he should contact the National Poison Control Directory or consult the web page for state-by-state poison control centers to determine a plan for treatment or referral.

The world of children involves play, exploration, and learning. It also involves exposure to many of life's hazards. Hazards come in numerous forms, including exposure to toxic chemicals found in the environment. One environmental health concern that has received considerable attention is children's exposure to arsenic. Potential sources of arsenic exposure for children include food, water, soil, and air.[1] However, arsenic can also be found in seemingly innocuous places, including wooden structures such as playground equipment, boat docks, patio decks, gazebos, walkways, fences, picnic tables, and so forth. The source of arsenic found in these structures is chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a wood preservative and pesticide that has been used for more than 60 years to protect wood from fungi, dry rot, mold, and termites.[2,3] CCA-treated wood can be recognized by its greenish to gray tint.[2] Children frequently play on and come into contact with wooden structures that have been treated with CCA and may be exposed to the chromium, copper, and arsenic residues that exist both on the surfaces of these structures and in the surrounding soil into which the metals have leached.[4] Of these three components in CCA-treated wood, the toxic effects of arsenic pose the greatest risk to children.[4]

Understanding the nature of arsenic exposure by CCA-treated structures is necessary if nurses wish to initiate prevention strategies to protect children. The purposes of this article are to explore potential dangers to young children who are exposed to arsenic residues in the environment from CCA-treated structures and to provide suggestions for solutions that could prevent such exposure.


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