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1. Wooden playsets, picnic tables, and decks

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Sealants and covers on old wood playsets, decks, and picnic tables

Add old wooden playsets, picnic tables, and decks to the list of things to watch out for as you work to keep your family healthy. Those made before 2004 are likely infused with an arsenic pesticide that sticks to the skin. More can wipe off an area of wood the size of a child’s hand than is legal in a glass of water. Replace them if you can. If not, seal them every six months, and cover old picnic tables with a cloth.

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Arsenic-treated playsets, picnic tables and decks

Arsenic from the wood sticks to skin. Wash hands and skin after children play on the wood. Better yet, find safer places to play. And definitely keep children off of rough wood surfaces – arsenic in splinters can be dangerous. See more safety tips at EWG.

2. Outdoor play areas

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Arsenic test for your soil | Bushes around your home | Grassy play areas

Simples steps can protect your child from common soil contaminants like lead and arsenic. Grassy play areas are great for keeping children out of polluted soil. Bushes planted around pre-1978 homes with lead paint help children steer clear of lead-polluted soil near the foundation. Tests for arsenic in soil help you find soil "hot spots" near old (pre-2004) wooden decks and playsets infused with arsenic pesticides that are no longer sold. (Click here for soil testing lab's contact info.)

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Bare soil play areas

Many yards and parks have soil "hot spots" of lead and arsenic, from the long-time use of products banned ten to thirty years ago -- arsenic pesticides, lead paint, and lead spewed from auto exhaust. Soil sticks to children’s hands, and ends up in their mouths. Avoid bare soil play areas if you can, and wash children's hands even more often than usual if you can't.

3. Playground surfaces

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Wood mulch, sand, and pea gravel
These surfaces cushion falls without the chemical contaminants found in rubber tire chips and mats.

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Shredded rubber
Shredded rubber can contain lead and other toxic chemicals. Choose playgrounds with safer surfaces. Any time children play on shredded rubber, EPA recommends they keep rubber chips and hands out of their mouths. Be sure to wash children's hands afterwards, especially before they eat.

4. Playing fields

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Natural infill | Natural grass and safer synthetic turf

The jury is out on artificial turf and crumb rubber infill. In 2016 the federal government launched a multi-agency study of health risks from children's exposures to contaminants from the fields. In the meantime, a number of cities have prohibited the fields for schools and parks. Natural fields with natural infill (the loose material that forms the base layer) are a safer choice.

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Artificial turf | Crumb rubber infill

In tests of artificial turf and crumb rubber infill, scientists find lead, cancer-causing compounds, and chemicals called PAHs that can harm brain development. Exposures are small, but children are more vulnerable to chemicals than adults. Wash skin and clothing thoroughly after children play on these surfaces. And choose natural playing fields when you can.


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