You go to the corner store and see they’re sold out of firewood. You figure you’ll just use some of the lumber you tore down from your old deck back at the cottage instead. What could go wrong?
Using pressure-treated wood is incredibly dangerous to both your health and the environment. Today I’m discussing why you should never use it as firewood, plus the steps you should take to ensure your safety when handling this type of material.
What is pressure-treated wood?
“Pressure-treated” wood is any lumber that has been treated with chemicals to improve its durability. To treat the wood, lumber is immersed in a liquid preservative and then held in a pressure chamber. The chemicals used in this process include Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ), Copper Azole (CA) and Micronized Copper Azole (MCA). These chemicals are forced deep into the wood’s surface to help reduce rot and decay, repel water and termites, and extend the life of the lumber – in fact, it can last up to 20 years in comparison to natural wood.
Wood that is used for building projects, fencing and outdoor furniture is often pressure treated. This type of wood is also used in industrial and commercial settings for products including utility poles and boardwalks.
Why is pressure-treated wood hazardous to burn?
Because of the chemicals used during the pressurizing process, pressure-treated wood should never be burned. If pressure-treated wood catches fire, it can release hazardous (and even carcinogenic) byproducts of the chemicals into the air. In addition to the harmful smoke, the ash will also be filled with the toxic remnants of the wood, exposing you to yet another safety hazard when cleaning up.
Immediate exposure to these hazards can result in extreme inflammation. Long-term health risks can include permanent irritation to the bronchial tubes and a greater risk of upper respiratory tract infections and lung cancer.
Safety measures to take when working with pressure-treated wood
If you’re working on a project that involves pressure-treated wood (whether it’s new, or especially if it’s old) it’s important to take the following precautions to ensure your safety:
- Only work with pressure-treated wood outdoors. Do not bring this type of wood into your home. Fragments of the chemicals used can settle into your environment and put you at risk of long-term exposure.
- Wear a respirator. If you’re cutting, drilling or sanding, you must use a solution that provides protection from particulates at all times. The 3M™ N95 is a trusted and economical solution.
- Wear safety glasses. To protect your eyes from the dust created from cutting wood, it’s important to wear eye protection. If you opt for glasses instead of goggles with a proper seal, ensure that they have a foam gasket to protect your eyes from nuisance dust.
- Wear protective gloves. As you now know, pressure-treated wood is filled with different chemicals. To protect your skin, it’s important to wear protective gloves and long sleeves to limit your skin exposure to the irritants. Gloves made with goatskin leather will provide you with ample protection and the dexterity you need to perform your tasks.
- Wash your hands and launder your clothing immediately. This holds especially true if you’re working with older, weathered wood (i.e., tearing down a deck). Limit your chances of contamination by following proper washing routines.
If you can’t burn pressure-treated wood, how do you dispose of it?
It’s important to dispose of any unneeded pressure-treated wood at a landfill or however your local regulations state (most areas will have their specific directions available online). If you have sawdust left over from a project, do not put it in with your compost or use it as mulch. The chemical remnants could be highly hazardous to the environment. Lastly, make sure that you do not put the wood anywhere where children, pets or livestock can access it.
To ensure you’re keeping your bonfires fun and safe, only use dry, clean and natural wood. If you have doubts about the wood, don’t use it!