Boyne City officials still working to clear arsenic from playground

playground web
Boyne City's Veterans Park playground has been closed since June 22 after test results revealed most locations contained very high levels of arsenic, which was commonly used as a wood preservative when the playground was originally built.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain gave the Boyne City Commission an update on the Veterans Park toxic playground matter at the commission’s regular Tuesday Nov. 10 meeting.

He said the community of Manistee, which also has one of the playgrounds with treated wood that leaks arsenic, will follow Boyne City’s lead in attempting to restore the structure.
“We’re continuing to explore our options to remove the last of the woodchips at the community playground,” said Cain.
So far, two community workdays have occurred to remove a large portion of the contaminated woodchips from the ground around the playground structure.
Boyne City officials initially planned to remove all the woodchips, reseal the wooden portions of the playground that have proved positive for arsenic leaching, and then retest the structure in the spring to determine whether they were able to contain the arsenic.
“I think we’ve kind of given a new emphasis for people trying to save these rather than just removing them, which is what we were seeing happening beforehand,” Cain said. “We still have a lot of work to do on it and I don’t want to guarantee anything on it but that’s obviously our goals.”

History of the playground issue

Boyne City will attempt to salvage its toxic playground but officials need your help.

Roughly a dozen-and-a-half people consisting of concerned citizens and city officials met Wednesday Sept. 30, at Boyne City Hall to devise a solution to widespread arsenic contamination on the city’s most popular playground.

“The City of Brighton has a similar one of these structures in their community … and we contacted them and they shared us their information that they had,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain. “They basically faced this issue in 2011 and they came up with a due care process where they basically pulled all the woodchips out, replaced the membrane that was down there, left the soils in place (and) resealed it.”

Cain said Brighton uses the same product that Boyne City uses to seal the wooden structure every other year as prescribed.

Cain said Brighton has not tested its playground for the existence of arsenic since it performed the cleanup operation. However, he said he did go to the city while on a business trip to Lansing and inspected the area himself.

Cain said the playground has hand sanitizer stations at the entrance, as well as signs warning people that there may be elevated arsenic levels.

“That was the only Leathers (& Associates) playground that we know of that hasn’t met the fate of removal—and that’s what everybody else has done,” said Cain.

Boyne City’s Veterans Park playground has been closed since June 22 after test results revealed most locations contained very high levels of arsenic, which was commonly used as a wood preservative when the playground was originally built.

According to the report, issued by Sagasser & Associates, the playground appears to be leaching arsenic pentoxide, chromic acid and cupric oxide. The arsenic levels from pressure-treated lumber discovered at the site range between 1.1 million and 2.3 million parts per billion.

Additionally, all but one of the wood chip samples tested exceeds the safe direct contact criteria.

Soil samples taken from under and around the structure also exceeded allowable standards.

“One of the saddest days I’ve had in this organization is when I had to close the playground after we got the test results back on the arsenic,” said Cain. “We’ve been watching what’s been going on with Leathers playgrounds across the State of Michigan for quite some time.”
Cain mentioned several playgrounds, one in Traverse City and one in Harbor Springs, which had materials made by the same company as the Boyne City playground.

“This was a reoccurring situation that was going on across the state,” he said. “We finally saw enough of it. And, even though we were following procedures that Leathers had given us back when it was built in 2001—which was to make sure that it was treated with their recommended product every other year—we thought it was prudent for us just to be safe with regards to our kids that were using it to see what do we really have going on out at the playground.”

Cain said there has been a marked decline in the park’s usage since the playground was closed.

“We are being slow. We are being deliberate. We are trying to make sure we’re not putting kids in any harm’s way,” he said.

Patrick Kilkenny, Boyne City Assistant Planner and Zoning Administrator, said the EPA prohibited further use of type of treated wood used in Boyne City’s playground in 2003.

Kilkenny said the primary manner of exposure to the arsenic is by ingestion or by touching it.

Several different materials—including rubber turf and different grades of woodchips—were discussed for the playground’s base.

Kilkenny said woodchips absorb runoff from the playground structure, which may explain the higher arsenic levels in some areas.

Sealant options for the structure itself—to help prevent arsenic from leaching—was also discussed.

Cain said discussions have included removing the woodchips and sealing the structure now and waiting until spring to test the area to see where the toxin levels are, as well as working with the health department to see what other options there are for safeguarding it.

“If we do come up with a process, I think it’s incumbent upon us to still continue to do regular testing,” said Cain.

Melissa Kendzierski, with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in the remediation and redevelopment division, said the hazards at this point are really unknown because the standards for arsenic exposure are based off of residential standards, where people tend to spend much more time.

People who were originally involved with the planning of the playground said much of the lumber is covered with composite material to prevent splinters but that will also significantly reduce the chances for exposure the treated wood.

It was suggested to cover the wood with a heavy-duty outdoor paint but one attendee said the lumber in this construction will not hold paint very long before it begins to fall off.

The ultimate consensus was to begin by removing the contaminated woodchips in the coming weeks.

Then, Cain said the structure could be sealed and analyzed to see if the arsenic is being prevented from leaching.

A community work day has been scheduled and volunteers are asked to arrive to help load the woodchips into dumpsters where they will be hauled to a facility for safe disposal.