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Research raises concerns

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Officials recommend replacing wooden playground at South Lakes Park

Play days at the 19-year-old Eureka playground could be numbered.

Denton’s parks staff has recommended that replacing the wooden playground in South Lakes Park be part of the 2014 bond election, just as new research about arsenic — the original wood in the playground was treated with a pesticide that can leach arsenic — sheds more light on its potential toxicity.

Researchers at Texas Tech University found that combined exposures to low levels of arsenic and estrogen caused greater effects on human prostate cells. Published in the peer-reviewed online journal The Prostate, the research of Justin Treas, Tulika Tyagi and Kamaleshwar Singh was the first to take the two known carcinogens and study their combined effect on prostate cells, Singh said.

The study sought to better understand the combined effects at low doses by applying arsenic and estrogen for six months, Singh said.

“In the real world, we are exposed to more than one chemical at a time,” Singh said.

For example, if someone drinks water contaminated by arsenic, but at a level considered safe by toxicologists, that is considered a chronic exposure. At the same time, if that person is also exposed to estrogen — by eating chicken that was given feed with the hormone, for example — questions emerge about the combined effect.

“The effect of such combinations, even at a low dose, was not known,” Singh said.

Because the research was on cells and not live animals, it is a little harder to predict the effect it might have on people, according to Treas.

“But we did find that the low doses together could be better at causing cancer than either chemical alone,” Treas said.

Denton resident Ed Soph raised concerns about arsenic leaching from the playground’s wood years ago. This week, he renewed his call for the playground to be replaced, citing similar responses in other communities. Rowlett officials recently decided to tear down that city’s playground, built in 1998 by volunteers.

“So many communities have replaced the playgrounds and Leathers no longer uses CCA-treated [chromate copper arsenate] wood,” Soph said.

Like many communities around the country, Denton residents contracted with a New York-based architectural firm, Leathers and Associates, to design a structure with input from the city’s children and lead its construction, which was built by volunteers. And like Denton’s, many of those playgrounds were built with the pesticide-treated wood that is no longer allowed for such a use because of concerns about arsenic leaching, according to Environmental Protection Agency rules from 2003.

The parks department studied the leaching at Eureka and provided for the playground’s wood to be resealed twice a year, according to Emerson Vorel, Denton’s director of parks and recreation.

The parks staff has recommended that about $1 million be allocated to replace the playground.

“Our vision would be a plastic and steel structure that would be comparable in size and play value to the current structure,” Vorel said.

However, Vorel said it was too early to say for sure whether the playground’s replacement would be part of the bond package planned for 2014. In the past, the City Council has appointed a citizen committee to review the staff recommendations and come up with the final list of projects that go before Denton voters.

Soph was not the only Denton resident with renewed concerns about local exposures to the combined effects of toxic substances. Many residents have been concerned for some time about chronic exposure to multiple toxic substances emitted at low levels from more than 500 natural gas pad sites in the city and its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Cathy McMullen, a home health nurse and advocate for tougher rules locally, asked state health officials for more information about combined effects at a public meeting on the topic in Dish in 2010 and learned that there was none.

“It’s crazy that we don’t know that yet,” McMullen said. “As a nurse, we can lose our license if we don’t explore and inform our patients of drug interactions. There’s always a cause and effect, even with the most benign things.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.