Health, Travel and living

Arsenic in Wooden Picnic Tables Pose Health Threat to Communities

arsenic-pollutionIn 2009, hundreds of picnic tables in Indiana parks were discovered to have traces of arsenic after being treated with a wood preservative that can leach high levels of the poison. These tables posed an unseen risk to children and other park attendees who ate at community parks.

Damage of Arsenic

Since 2002, U.S. industries have used over 20,000 metric tons of arsenic. Roughly 90% of this arsenic was used for wood treatment. Although not as widely used for wood treatment today, its prevalence in older, pressure-treated woods remains a danger, as it was used in building materials and found in picnic tables and other communal areas.

Wooden picnic tables pose a risk in the community, as these tables are constantly exposed to wildlife. For example, in the event of fire, arsenic-treated wood can fatally poison animals, and seriously poison humans.

Long term exposure to arsenic also increases the risk of cancer.

Action Being Taken

Despite risks, many of the wood picnic tables found in Indiana in 2009 have yet to be replaced or painted to seal arsenic. However, it is not malicious city officials that are the problem, but budgetary constraints and the general public remaining uneducated in the matter.

It could take years before these tables are eventually replaced or removed. In the meantime, residents of the area have been asked to wash their hands and cover picnic tables with a table cloth before eating to reduce the levels of exposure. Incidentally, many other places around the U.S. have discovered arsenic in their picnic tables.

An Alternate to the Wooden Picnic Table

Testing for arsenic on picnic tables in community parks can be time consuming. Newer community parks are adopting concrete and metal picnic tables as an alternative to wood. These alternative materials are also preferable to wood, due to their longevity.

Concrete Picnic Tables

Concrete picnic tables are not only sturdy by nature, but deter vandalism and theft. As they are weather and water resistant, cleanup is easy. Concrete tables can also come reinforced with steel, allowing them to withstand years of use. Meanwhile, these tables come in a variety of precast models, meaning your community park will never need to sacrifice function for practicality.

Metal Picnic Tables

Metal picnic tables are similarly durable, and come resistant to heavy loan, damage and corrosion. These picnic tables are also great for use by pools or lakes, as they have a higher resistance to moisture compared to other varieties.

Unlike concrete or wood picnic tables, some tables made from metal come in easy-folding design, making them ideal for rental or personal use.


Many park goers have sat at wooden picnic tables without knowing of the invisible dangers of wood pressure-treated with arsenic. Just remember that there are plenty of alternatives to keeping poorly painted and cracked wooden picnic tables around. If a concrete and metal picnic tables do not sound ideal for your local park, there are other alternatives you can look into, including recycled plastic and vinyl picnic tables.

Written by Julia, a freelance writer for a picnic table retailer.

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