When it comes to construction, wood of many forms quite literally lays the foundation of the process. You’d be hard-pressed to build a new home without sheets upon sheets of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) to cover the walls and roof. The planks of wood that go into framing those walls or constructing the porch or deck are also copious. It’s this unavoidable aspect that’s a concern to Todd Shupe, a former wood science professor at LSU. That’s because so much wood used today for construction purposes has been treated with chemicals to ensure durability and resistance to the elements that will eventually test the limits of its longevity. Given that Todd Shupe also holds three degrees in forestry and wood science and was a lab director for years, it’s clear that he’s well-versed on the subject and can inform readers about the dangers of chemically-treated wood. “Todd directed a quality academic testing lab with an industrial sense of urgency,” Mike Freeman, a Memphis, Tennessee-based consultant, recently said.
In a recent article that appeared in The Chippewa Herald, a municipal government recycling specialist sounds off on the dangerous surrounding open burning of trash – including wood. The reason for her warning surrounding backyard burning is that the chemicals released during the process are sent straight into the atmosphere and aren’t treated like they would be at a specialized facility. According to the article, “untreated wood” can be burned with a permit from your local government office. Unfortunately, as Todd Shupe can tell you, untreated wood is hard to come by unless you just chopped the limb off of a tree. The chemicals used to treat wood for non-residential purposes included heavy metals such as chromim, copper, and asenic, pentachlorophenol and creosote. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all wood preservatives are subjected to periodic reviews. That’s with good reason, says Todd Shupe, who notes that creosote is absorbed into the body through breathing and can remain there after being stored in fat. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that this chemical can cause “burning in the mouth and throat as well as stomach pain.”
Fortunately, the EPA and other entities have realized the dangers of treating wood with chemicals that have an adverse effect on human health. Fortunately, there are government agencies restricting use or ditching harmful chemicals altogether. From a science standpoint, Todd Shupe says that the solution is to either dispose of chemically-treated wood in a responsible manner or find metal-free preservatives. He’s similarly encouraged by the ongoing development of metal-free wood preservatives and the use of small diameter timber for the bio-energy sector.