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Beware Treated Pine


I was in the backyard the other day, looking at the kids cubby house when I noticed a telltale green tinge; the green tinge of treated pine. My discovery made me unhappy as I recalled a recent episode of Is Your Housing Making You Sick and their revelation that treated pine, so commonly used in this country, leaches arsenic. ‘Treated’ is such a benign word, cleverly chosen by manufacturers who want to sell us something which is potentially dangerous to our health – would you buy ‘treated’ pine if it was called arsenic pine, probably not. Thankfully, being aware of the risks can be enough for you to mitigate them with the right precautions.

Pine is treated so that it lasts longer in the ground – from a few years to 40 or more. During the fixations process, which takes a few months, most of the CCA (copper chromium arsenic) becomes chemically bonded within the timber, however this does not mean it will stay there forever. A certain amount of the CCA will leach out of the timber over time so we must be careful where we use it and take precautions when we work with it.
Countries, such as Indonesia, Japan, Sweden and Germany have partially or completely restricted the use of CCA as a preservative for timber and in the USA, CCA is banned from use in the domestic/home market. So, you may wonder, why are we still using it here? I’m not sure why, however restrictions have been put on the use of treated pine in Australia with the timber banned from use on structures such as tables, chairs, children’s play equipment and handrails. The problem is not everyone knows this, and since treated pine is readily available for the home handyman to buy and use as he/she wishes, it is still being used for these applications.

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Back in 2004, the Australian Workers Union banned ‘certain methods of usage of construction materials treated with copper chrome arsenate’. They did this because there is supportive evidence of the risks associated with using this timber. Reports from the US EPA’s Incident Data System show injury from CCA-treated timber includes incidents of ‘itching, burning, rashes, neurological symptoms, and breathing problems after handling lumber; damage to nerves in feet and legs from CCA sawdust and fumes from construction; chronic rash; eye swelling form dust; headache, nausea, shakiness, and thirst from cutting timber’ (cited by Feldman, 2002). Scared yet?

Knowing all this you may never want to use this timber again, however if you do, or already have it around your yard or home, how can you reduce the risk to your family’s health? Already existing timber on decks or play equipment should be sealed with paint or special sealant. If there is treated pine in your garden bed recommendations from the CSIRO include placing plants/vegetables, at least 100 mm from the timber edgings or placing plastic between the soil and timber. When handling CCA-treated timber wear protective clothing, including gloves and if cutting timber, wear a face-mask, goggles and as the US EPA advises: ‘Clean up all sawdust, scraps, and other construction debris thoroughly... Do not compost or mulch sawdust or remnants... Do not burn CCA-treated wood... After working with the wood, wash all exposed areas of your body... Wash your work clothes separately from other household clothing before wearing them again (Office of Pesticide Programs, 2002).

The use in Australia is regulated and the CSIRO website explains that ‘A link between handling CCA-treated timber (using recommended procedures) and cancer has not been demonstrated, as the potential ingestion rates of arsenic that can be calculated from valid available research are well within tolerable limits.’ Australian Standards (2) sets out approved loadings of CCA depending on the ‘hazard’ to which the timber will be exposed, such ratings expressed as ‘hazard classes’ – H1 – H6, e.g. domestic uses such as decking and fence palings have a class of H3. Having said all this I’m not reassured and I’d be surprised if you were.

Until I watched a show on television I had no idea that I, and my children, were at such a risk from something that has always been in our garden. I am disappointed that our government doesn’t make this information more widely available and that people could be getting sick and not know why. Spread the news and stop the spread of arsenic, your community will thank you.


Dionne Lister was born and raised in Sydney and apart from some minor overseas travel hasn’t moved anywhere else. She met her husband through surfing however has had no time for that lately because of her two young children, kindly bestowed upon her by said husband.

She is sensible and works to earn money, however loves writing in her spare time and wishes, as most creative people do, that she could earn her living from such a past-time. Dionne hopes her articles are informative and entertaining and would love some adoring fan-mail ;-)

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    Kaycee says:

    Which came first, the prlboem or the solution? Luckily it doesn't matter.

    8th November 2011 . 12 years ago