Ed Soph: Kids deserve the best

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The Eureka play structure in South Lakes Park was built by visionary and community-minded volunteers in 1994. They wanted the best for Denton’s children and that’s what they gave them, a magical structure that has entranced and entertained young and old alike.

The dangers of arsenic leaching from copper chromated arsenate (CCA)-treated wood, the pesticide infused lumber with which Eureka is constructed, were not recognized until 2004 when the Environmental Protection Agency ordered that the manufacture of such treated wood for use in play structures like Eureka and residential construction cease.

The company that provided the plans for Eureka, Leathers and Associates, no longer uses arsenic-treated wood for its play structures. In a 2005 e-mail to me, a representative of the company wrote that Leathers had already helped “about twenty communities” replace their 1980s and early 1990s Leathers’-designed playgrounds with new ones and that many more were anticipated; “… the playgrounds we design today have little or no wood in them at all.”

Acting in a responsible and precautionary manner, the Denton school district removed all CCA-treated structures from school playgrounds and the arsenic-contaminated soil around them soon after that EPA ruling. The Fort Worth school district also removed its CCA-treated play structures.

Communities throughout the nation have since replaced similar toxic structures. Structures that, like Denton’s, had been built by community efforts before the risks of childhood exposure to the arsenic in CCA-treated wood became cause for concern and precaution.

Those risks are considerable because of both what is known and not known about childhood exposures to toxic chemicals like arsenic. Scientific research has proven that the old adage, “the dose makes the poison,” is false. A child’s age at the time of exposure, genetic makeup, immune system and the frequency of exposure can determine the lethal, long-range results of toxin ingestion, not the amount ingested.

Furthermore, children encounter higher risks from exposure as they assimilate more pesticides relative to body weight than adults do.

Over the years, the “acceptable” level of childhood lead exposure has been lowered and lowered. Now, doctors and toxicologists say that the only safe level is zero. Mercury exposure to children continues to be intensely studied.

No acceptable or “safe” standard, either federal or state, for childhood exposure to the arsenic in CCA-treated wood has been established.

Yet, it has been argued for the past nine years, using an out-dated and irrelevant study automatically cited by the firm that annually tests Eureka’s wood and the soil around the structure, that levels are below the carcinogenic threshold (presumably for adult exposure), in effect making a public health decision on the basis of what is not known, upon ignorance, rather than one based upon commonsense precaution.

It is established that the arsenic leaching from Eureka’s timbers can cause liver, skin and bladder cancer.

This leaching continues even with the bi-annual sealing of the wood. The soil beneath Eureka holds almost 20 years of leached arsenic.

Since 2004, many communities have acted on the side of caution rather than making unnecessary and undetermined risk seem acceptable, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars annually to minimize hazards that should not be tolerated in the first place.

For example, Rowlett is in the process of replacing its Kid’s Kingdom play structure. It, like Eureka, was constructed by volunteers before the risks of CCA-treated wood were known.

Rowlett’s newsletter for July states, “The issue at hand came down to one thing: ensuring the safety of our community’s children. Nothing is more important than that.”

Is there any reason Eureka should not be replaced with a nontoxic play structure that poses no avoidable health risks for the children?

Is there any reason why the children’s safety should not be ensured?

Denton’s children deserve a new Eureka that does not require a sign at its entrance warning parents to wash their children’s hands after playing on or around it and advising that food not be eaten in the playground area.

Denton’s physically challenged and disabled children deserve a new Eureka with wheelchair access and dedicated play areas and activities.

The many personal mementos, the children’s hand prints preserved in tiles and the plaques rightfully commemorating the families who made the structure a reality, can be incorporated into the new Eureka with the new handprints and plaques of those who join in the effort to build the new Eureka.

That same citizen goodwill, vision, commitment, community unity and civic pride that gave Denton’s children their first Eureka in 1994 will be honored, enshrined and cherished in the new Eureka.

Denton’s children still deserve the best in 2014.

ED SOPH is a 26-year resident of Denton.

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