Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:


Arsenic is a toxic chemical element that occurs naturally in rock and soil. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless. When arsenic enters the body through ingestion or inhalation, it is readily absorbed and undetectable. Being aware of arsenic risks and testing for its presence remain a best practice for all child care facilities

Health Concerns and Exposure Information

Arsenic occurs naturally within the soil at different levels varying by region. Arsenic is colorless, tasteless and odorless and easily absorbed by the body. The health effects related to long-term, repeated arsenic exposure include:

  • Irritation of stomach or intestines
  • Birth and developmental effects
  • Some forms of cancer:
      • Skin
      • Lung
      • Bladder
  • Infertility and miscarriages


Pressure Treated Wood

The wood in pre-2004 playground sets, picnic tables, benches, mulch, and decks can contain potentially hazardous levels of arsenic due to the use of Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) as a wood preservative and insecticide. The EPA-registered CCA solution which is used to treat wood can contain up to 30% arsenic.

Due to health concerns, CCA was phased out for residential uses in 2004. Wood treated with CCA can still be used for commercial, industrial and some agricultural purposes.

Children who regularly spend time on treated structures built prior to 2004 could potentially be exposed to arsenic (e.g., by putting their hands in their mouths or eating directly after playing on treated structures).






Contaminated Drinking Water

Arsenic in water can occur naturally or as a result of agricultural and industrial activities. Exposure primarily occurs from the ingestion of drinking water containing arsenic.

Public drinking water systems are regulated and monitored for elevated levels of arsenic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the maximum level of arsenic permitted in drinking water at 10 parts per billion. EPA also sets a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG).

The MCLG is the maximum level of a contaminant in drinking water at which no known or anticipated poor health outcomes would occur. The MCLG for arsenic is zero. MCLGs are non-enforceable public health goals.

Private wells are unregulated. Those who get their drinking water from a private well need to test for levels of arsenic annually and install a filtration system if levels are high.

Arsenic in Baby Food

A toddler being spoon-fed. 

Tests have found arsenic in infant food including common rice cereals. Arsenic even in very small amounts can damage children's developing brains. Despite the health risks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t set limits for heavy metals in many baby foods.

Tips For Reducing Exposures

Avoiding Arsenic Exposure

Filter it: Remove arsenic by treating your private well water. Contact your state or local public health department to request advice on the best treatment methodology for achieving this goal. Make sure the filtration system or unit has been certified by one of the 3 certifiers listed in "Resources".

Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to install, operate and maintain the water treatment unit to ensure levels of arsenic in your drinking water are safe.

Seal it. Apply 2 coats of waterproof stain or sealant on CCA-treated wood. Water-based sealant should be applied twice a year, where-as oil based sealant can be applied only once a year.

Do not burn it, sand it or cut it. Burning CCA-treated wood releases arsenic into the air. Sanding or cutting CCA-treated wood creates toxic dust.

A family sits together at a picnic table in a garden.

Cover it. Cover picnic tables with a non vinyl table-cloth; ensure that food and drink does not come into contact with CCA-treated wood. Avoid storing toys under CCA-treated wood decks.

Clean it. Use a mild soap and water solution to clean CCA-treated wooden structures. Avoid power washing and applying harsh cleaning products, such as bleach or acidic cleansers. Dispose of cleaning supplies when finished.

Replace it. Replace CCA-treated wood structures with alternative materials such as red wood, cedar or plastic playground equipment. Dispose of CCA– treated wood at a hazardous waste site.

Choose rice-free packaged snacks. Snacks made with rice flour can be high in arsenic. Avoid infant rice cereal as it is the #1 source of arsenic in infant's diets.