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Crystal River to test for arsenic

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

Officials are concerned about the chemical's levels in the city playground and other assorted public wooden structures.

City officials said Friday they will commission soil tests to determine how much arsenic is leaching from its playground as well as other structures built with pressure-treated wood.

The city indicated it would test the playground, built by volunteers in 1995, after concerns were raised in a special report in the St. Petersburg Times last Sunday.

But those plans were made official Friday and now the scope has been broadened to include gazebos, picnic tables and fence posts in various locations across the city.

The tests, likely to be conducted by Central Testing Laboratory of Floral City, could begin next week.

While the city does not plan to close the playground behind City Hall, it may post notices that pressure-treated wood contains arsenic, a fact many people do not know.

"We need to make sure the public is comfortable," City Manager David Sallee said. "The playground was an extraordinary volunteer effort, and we want to reassure all citizens that it is a continuing safe place to play."

The Times' story has caused considerable waves. Two of the five playgrounds included in the report _ one in Tampa and one in Tarpon Springs _ have since been closed.

Gov. Jeb Bush has called for the state's own wood-treatment plant to stop using arsenic as a preservative.

A Tampa laboratory hired by the Times found soil at each of the five randomly selected playgrounds contained arsenic at levels higher than the state considers safe. Crystal River was nearly four times the safety limit.

Most lumber used in Florida is treated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, because humidity and insects would rapidly destroy virgin wood.

Some companies market wood that stands up to the elements without CCA, but it is not widely available and costs more.

The exact health risk of arsenic-tainted soil is unclear though some experts say the risk of a child getting cancer is remote.

At the same time, some people have won legal settlements with the wood industry after being poisoned.

Arsenic poisoning can cause neurological problems, numbness and paralysis.

Sallee noted that the city's maintenance practices are in line with recommendations made by safety experts.

Each year the city coats the playground wood with a sealant, and recently a new layer of mulch was put down.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.