The Dangers of Pressure Treated Lumber
Did you ever eat dirt? Not recently!?! How about when you were a kid? Not even a mud pie? You may have been too young to remember, but there was a time when the first thing that you did when you got something in your hand was to put it in your mouth. In fact, if you have children or grandchildren you may have noticed that they usually attempt to taste everything that they come into contact with. Why? Because from the very beginning kids seem to know that tasting things can sometimes be extremely pleasant. Unfortunately, they are too young to be aware of the fact that tasting things can sometimes be extremely dangerous. So, where are we going with the mud pie, eating dirt and kid tasting? To the pressure treated lumber store – that’s where.
First of all, let us explain that we don’t have anything against pressure treated lumber. We believe that pressure treated lumber is as important to a home dweller as household laundry bleach. What we do want to do is be informative. For example: Bleach and Ammonia, when mixed together, can cause serious illness and even death. However, by knowing the danger that the combination possesses the two can be used more safely. The same goes for pressure treated lumber. If you know what potential danger may exist – you can avoid a possible injury.
Pressure treated wood is normally light green or brown in color and is nothing more than good old fashioned wood treated under high pressure with a pesticide. In the East and South Southern Yellow Pine is used and in the Mid-West and North Douglas Fir is primarily used although several species of fir also are used. The pesticide that is most commonly used for pressure treating is known as Chromated Copper Arsenate (CAA) – a compound that contains arsenic (rat poison). So, this is something you definitely don’t want toddlers on your property to confuse with mud pie – or any other tasty morsel.
Keep in mind, there a several degrees of toxicity (and danger) associated with the various types of pressure treated lumber that is available. Pressure treated lumber that can be used in water contains the greatest amount of pesticide and should not be used around the home. A second level of chemical strength qualifies the wood to be used in contact with earth (i.e. fence posts, retaining walls, etc.). This material could prove to be dangerous if used for decking or patio furniture. A third type of pressure treated material is not meant to be used in contact with earth and is most often used for decks and furniture. Yep, even rat poison can be walked on if it is diluted enough. If you want to know how much pesticide has been used to make the pressure treated wood that you want to purchase look for the “treatment retention level” stamp somewhere on the board you are buying. A retention level of up to 0.25 is safe for decking and furniture. Pressure treated wood that has a retention level that is higher than 0.25 should not be used in places where you will come into direct contact with your bare skin. For example: treated wood with a retention level of 0.40 is great for fence posts, but not for a picnic table.
Do we need to explain that it is not a good idea to use pressure treated lumber to make food containers for animals or cabinets for people – or cutting boards for anyone!?!?
Wood and water don’t mix. And that is exactly why pressure treated wood became so popular. It resists rot better than redwood or cedar. However, redwood and cedar do not contain rat poison – in any dilution.
So what’s a boy (or gal) to do? When handling pressure treated wood treat it as wood that contains a chemical that is not safe to ingest. When cutting, planing, grinding or chiseling pressure treated wood be sure to wear a breathing mask. Rat poison and lung tissue do not smiles make. Also, it is a smart idea to wear eye protection. And most important – don’t work with pressure treated wood inside the home. Cut it outside where mother nature is there to help.
The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that clothing worn while working around pressure treated wood should be washed separately. Wood scraps should be discarded in the trash and not burned – yuck – rat poison smoke!!
We say pressure treated wood is most safe once covered with a heaping portion of oil base primer followed by one or two more coats of your favorite colored oil base finish.
In any event, keep in mind that with pressure treated wood you get more lasting quality for your money, but the trade off is a bit of management when it comes to youngsters in the garden that aren’t stopped by the tasted of dirt! And, good luck!