Arsenic in Pressure-Treated Wood

Older wooden structures like decks, picnic tables and play structures were commonly treated with an arsenic-containing chemical. Learn whether your family might be exposed to this type of wood on a regular basis, particularly if you drink from a private well or eat foods with potentially high arsenic.

What types of wooden structures have arsenic?

Wooden structures built before 2003—like decks, picnic tables and play structures—were often pressure-treated with arsenic. Take action, by using the tips below, to keep your family safe from the arsenic that could be in older wooden structures near your home.


  • Learn if the wooden structures that your kids play on or sit at, such as picnic tables or swing sets, were built before 2003.
  • Apply a sealant to the wood at least once a year.
  • Wash hands after touching older wood and the dirt near it, particularly before eating.
  • Keep kids away from dirt near older wood.
  • Order a water test if you have a private well.
  • Learn if you might be exposed to arsenic in food or other sources.
  • Follow the What You Can Do action steps to reduce your total arsenic exposure.
always wash hands graphic

Is arsenic in wood a potential problem for kids?

Yes. Young children can be potentially exposed to pressure-treated wood. Kids often sit at picnic tables or play on wood decks, swing sets, play structures or in the dirt around them. Kids are also likely to touch their mouths and accidentally swallow arsenic before washing their hands. Over time, this is harmful to their health, particularly if they are also exposed to arsenic in other ways such as through food.

Why is arsenic in wood?

Before 2003, wooden play structures, decks and picnic tables were pressure-treated with an arsenic-based pesticide called CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate). Over time, arsenic makes its way to the surface of the wood, where it spreads easily onto hands or gets into nearby soils.

“It is critical to determine all potential exposure sources of arsenic for you and your family. Avoiding pressure treated wood is a relatively simple way to reduce your exposure risk from this source of arsenic. Make sure to test your well water or request your public water supplier water quality report. Finally, reduce intake and/or vary sources of foods that may have high arsenic levels.”

Dr. Rebecca Fry, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill