Community groups test S.F. playgrounds for arsenic

The 1970s were a time for drugs, music and arsenic on the playgrounds in The City.

Thirty-two of San Francisco’s 200 playgrounds were built in the era of rock ’n’ roll with compressed wood known to contain arsenic, according to Isabelle Wade of the Neighborhood Parks Council. Over the weekend, a group of concerned parents and park activists began testing the popular slides and swings of Dolores Park for the carcinogen, the first in the campaign to ensure the safety of The City’s playgrounds.

For two years, The City has been coating the wood structures to protect children from the toxin until they can afford new equipment.

There are 29 play structures, some of which are being tested, that were found to have arsenic in them, according to a 2002 Recreation and Park Department study. But those structures were either sealed or replaced.

The City plans on resealing the playgrounds every two years until all of them are replaced. But, despite the effort to rid The City of arsenic, there are still 32 playgrounds with 85 structures that could possibly contain the chemical, according to Wade.

“We want to replace the sand [in the playgrounds] primarily, because that’s where most of the arsenic leaks from the play structures,” Wade said. “The sand can be replaced, [and] it is something [the Recreation and Park Department] has done.”

Arsenic can cause vomiting and a decreased level of red blood cells, according to the Center for Environmental Health. A federal law passed two years ago requires municipalities to post signage informing residents of the toxin.

Recreation and Park Department Spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said park users should not be too concerned about getting poisoned while riding a merry-go-round because there has never been a case of someone getting sick from arsenic in The City from a playground.

“The chances of you taking your kids to the playground and getting chicken pox, getting a cold or getting ringworm is much greater than getting arsenic,” she said. “The kid would have to eat an entire arsenic log.”

The Recreation and Park Department has welcomed the test and has vowed to address any concerns that arise. Dennis said concerned parents should wash their children’s hands as soon as they are done playing with the equipment.

sfarooq@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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