Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure treated wood is the green colored wood that you see being used for fence posts, retaining walls, decking and other outside building projects. The chemicals that are added to the wood (under high pressure) serve to reduce decay resulting from repeated contact with water. Pressure treated wood materials also act to reduce damage by insects. We don’t normally see pressure treated wood used inside the home because wood inside the home is rarely in continuous contact with water.
The folks that represent the manufacturers of pressure treated wood products will tell you that pressure treated wood is a blessing to the environment. And, in many ways we agree that it is very helpful. But there are limits — misuse or lack of proper precautions could end up causing serious injury or even death. Why? Because the chemicals that are used to pressure treat wood are poisonous pesticides!
Yes, there is a good side. Pressure treated wood really does extend the life of wood. And in so doing places a much smaller demand on our trees and forests. Millions of trees are saved every year because of chemical treatment. Pressure treating also reduces homeowner maintenance costs where it is used on decks, retaining walls, fences, etc. As we all know, the total investment in anything is the price we pay times the life span of the purchase.
We see absolutely nothing wrong with using pressure treated wood as long as the user is well informed about the potential dangers. Two of the most common chemicals used for pressure treating are Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) and Ammoniated Copper Zinc Arsenate (ACZA). The following information about CCA and ACZA was approved for publication by the EPA: “Wood treated with inorganic arsenic should be used only where such protection is needed.” We understand this to mean that overuse of pesticide treated wood could be dangerous to the environment. Also: “After working with the [pressure treated] wood, and before eating, drinking, and use of tobacco products, wash exposed areas [face, hands, arms etc.] thoroughly.” We understand this to mean that working with pressure treated wood can cause enough poison to be transferred to your hands that it could be dangerous to eat before washing the poison away.
Why have we mentioned these dangers? Let’s imagine that pressure treated material has been used to build a deck. A child is left unattended playing on the deck and begins to chew on a board (not an uncommon activity for a teething toddler). Our guess is that your imagination can deal with what might happen from this point.
NEVER EVER burn treated wood and NEVER breathe the sawdust. As we noted earlier there are several different chemicals used to pressure treat wood. Some are far more dangerous than others even though they all look the same. The better the preservation quality the stronger the pesticide and the more dangerous the pressure treated material becomes. For example: Pentachlorophenol is a stronger pesticide and is used in commercial applications to treat power poles. Pentachlorphenol is so strong that it can be introduced into your system through your skin. Therefore, it is wise to be sure what type and how much pesticide is in the treated wood that you intend to purchase.
Fortunately for you each and every piece of pressure treated wood must be stamped with a tag that indicates which pesticide (and how much of that pesticide) was used. Remember: the greater the resistance to decay the more dangerous the pesticide.
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