Is Pressure Treated Wood Toxic?

Learning more about is pressure treated wood toxic could help you to feel less uneasy about using it for your outside projects.

Wood that is pressure treated is different from other wood products even though the base material is the same. It is different from how it is made to the appropriate uses and is a product all its own.

What exactly is pressure treated wood? Is it safe to use? How exactly is it treated? What are the above-mentioned appropriate uses? Read on to learn the answers so you will know the best way to use pressure treated wood for your potential projects.

Wood that has been treated with certain chemicals such as pesticides for insects and chemicals to protect the from rot is called pressure treated wood.

Exposed structures made from wood tend to rot from insect damage and rot. Wooden structures such as playground equipment, decks, fences, garden beds and railings are typically made from pressure treated wood with chemicals to keep those threats away and prolong the wood’s life.

How long does pressure-treated wood remain toxic?

Most wooden structures in the U.S. are made with lumber treated with arsenic. Wipe test on over 250 playsets, sandboxes, picnic tables and decks in over 40 states found the levels of arsenic on wood surfaces remained high for over twenty years which is the typical life of the wood.

 Is today’s pressure treated wood toxic?

Exposure long term to arsenic found in certain kinds of CCA pressured treated wood may increase the risk of bladder, skin, or lung cancer in a person’s lifetime according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Can you get sick from pressure treated wood?

Following safety precautions while around wood that is pressure treated should keep you safe in avoiding any health effects. But you should avoid any exposure to the ash and smoke from burning pressure treated wood.

Does pressure treated wood still have arsenic?

It is likely to have traces of arsenic in your dirt, like when you build a garden that is raised and fill it with soil. With that being said, there is not any added arsenic chemical added to pressure treated wood that is designed for home use.

Wood that is pressure treated has certain uses and is not appropriate for all projects. Pressure treated wood has high cooper content making it resistant to insects and rot. You may think that the resistance makes it ideal for all building projects, but that is not necessarily true.

Pressure treated wood is good for posts that are buried in the ground, ground contact in finished basements and decks, bit it is not always the ideal product for every project. For example, spruce, fir, and pine framing lumber compressed behind casing does not get the same kind of exposure, therefore it is not as vulnerable to insects or rot. These types of framing materials are more ideal for inside work as they tend to be less expensive.

There are three kinds of pressure treated wood:

Products that are pressure treated with water based mineral salt solutions are Borate products. The salts are responsible for maintaining the color of the wood and to protect from mildew, mold, fungi, and insects. If the conditions are too often wet, the treatment in the wood can get washed out. This is not good for either the environment or the wood.

Wood that is treated with ammonium alkyl and copper is ACQ or Alkaline copper quaternary which is an environmentally friendly solution. It is safe and effective but should not be near food or any animal feed. It will also not change the color of the wood.

The third type of pressure treated wood is noncombustible wood. This type of pressure treated wood is not appropriate for residential use.

It is pretty amazing how much moisture pressure treated wood can hold. The pores take on the chemicals so the wood swells a little in size. These two issues make it hard to paint.

With so much moisture retained in the wood, stains and paint cannot penetrate as they would with other materials. The result is sloughing or peeling paint due to the weak bond. As pressure treated wood dries, it shrinks. This can cause the paint to flake, wrinkle or crack.

The chemicals used in pressure treated wood can also control insects. Manufacturers use chemicals to protect it from insects and they work by deterring insects rather than killing them. This will keep carpenter bees, termites, carpenter ants and any other wood eating insects at bay to preserve the life of the wood.

We all worry about the danger of pesticides, especially for our children and pets. So, it is concerning to parents about using pressure treated wood for playgrounds. Normally, arsenic free pressure treated wood is safe for children to be around in playground situation. However, guidelines do state that children should not be present during the process of construction due to the dust.

Pressure treated wood is not acceptable for structures around marine environments. Pesticides and copper can drip into the water and be harmful to marine wildlife. No chemical treated wood should be used for pilings, rather a rot resistant hardwood called greenheart is a much better choice.

Pressure treated decking can last as long as ten years, while the poles may last as long as forty years.  

Outside the three kinds of pressure treated wood, there are also two kinds of contact uses: ground contact and above ground contact.

Ground contact wood is acceptable for contact with the ground. It is typically used for framing and posts. It contains a larger amount of chemical treatment and these wood products may last longer than the aboveground wood, possibly as long forty years.

Aboveground wood is acceptable for railings, fence slats, framing, deck boards and other situations where the wood does not hit the ground. This wood has less chemicals, so they may be around for about ten years if properly cared for.

You should wear a mask if you sand, drill or cut pressure treated wood even though it is completely safe.

Pressure treated wood was not always safe to be around. However, when the EPA banned arsenic treated wood back in 2003, the products became safer as they are today.

If you are a DIY person, you must take precautions. It is wise to wear a mask when drilling or cutting the wood. Remember, do not cut or drill inside as you need well ventilated areas to work in.

Be sure to take any leftover materials to the dump. It is not recommended to burn the pressure treated wood. Burning it can vaporize the chemicals, which allows them to catch infinitesimal rides on smoke particles into your eyes, mouth, nose and lungs.