Wood Sciences Expert Todd Shupe Says Material ‘Is Good Medicine’

todd shupe lsu

I have been fascinated by the recent non-traditional means to improve patient recovery. Over the years, I have read about the benefits of natural sunlight, plants, water elements, rooms with a view of nature and even the color of the room and design of the bed. “As an animal lover, I have been intrigued by the “pet” therapy in which cats and small dogs are brought to patients to hold and pet,” says Todd Shupe, LSU’s former wood science professor who oversaw a testing lab seeking patent approvals for related products.

However, my curiosity was really piqued after reading a study, “Wood as a Restorative Material in Healthcare Environments” by Sally Augustin and David Fell which was published in 2015. The goal of the report was to attempt to draw a link between the use of wood in the built environment and positive health outcomes. The researchers reported that “early evidence suggests that the human relationship with wood is similar to previously investigated responses of humans to other natural materials. According to Todd Shupe, wood is believed to b a biophilic material that reduces stress reactive when present. The biophilia hypothesis also called BET suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”

The Augustin and Fell report reports that “the mind and body are looking for a connection with nature when it is absent the type of nature and the type of building are secondary. Wood is a natural building and finishing material and therein is the fit with using it more in healthcare settings.” The goal of any natural material in a health care setting is to reduce stress. I think people associate wood paneling and flooring with a natural, warm environment and feel better connected to nature. “In our modern society, there is something intrinsically attractive about simple inherent natural beauty,” says Todd Shupe. “This could be found in natural sunlight, puppies, and even wood. If I end up in a hospital room, please get me a room with a view of a park, knotty pine flooring, and a cute puppy to pet!” We all know that wood is good – now, we now that is good medicine.

Todd Shupe Explores Frequently-Asked Question: ‘Are Wood Preservatives Safe?’

todd shupe lsuI have worked on wood durability R&D for over 20 years and one of the more frequent questions I receive from the public regards safety. The public is interested in two-fold safety: The first, “Is this product safe for myself and my children?” and the second, “Is this product safe for the environment?” The EPA has always been concerned with wood preservative safety and all preservatives must carry an EPA label. The labeling process is lengthy, expensive and includes a wide array of testing to determine if the preservative is toxic to vertebrates, marine organisms, and the environment.

The initial concern was focused on chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood. In 1998, the Florida Center for Solid & Hazardous Waste Management (FCSHWM) sponsored CCA research at the University of Florida and the University of Miami. The following year, arsenic was discovered in the soil at a Gainesville, Florida-area elementary school playground. This discovery led to several newspaper articles throughout Florida and eventually in USA Today.

“In 2001, the treated wood industry agreed to new voluntary warning labels on CCA-treated wood,” Todd Shupe, LSU’s former wood sciences lab leader who is also an authority on the subject, said recently. The environmental group Beyond Pesticides, Communication Workers of America, BANCCA.ORG and others joined together to sue the EPA to ban all forms of toxic treated wood, including creosote, pentachlorophenol and CCA treated wood in 2002. Their efforts were unsuccessful. The controversy came to a head when the EPA announced the finalization of the voluntary ban on residential uses of CCA, to take effect on Dec. 31, 2003. “It should be noted that the EPA did not require or suggest that any existing structures, including children’s playground equipment, should be removed from service. CCA continues to be used for non-residential uses such as poles, pilings, and posts,” Todd Shupe said.

My experience has shown me that CCA is a cost-effective effective with excellent efficacy against most organisms with the exception of mold fungi – which do not impact the structural integrity of a wood member. The metals in CCA-treated wood are generally resistant to leaching when the wood is placed in service. The leach-resistance of CCA is a result of the chemical “fixation” reactions that occur to render the toxic ingredients insoluble in water. The fixation of CCA is a complex process, but the essence of CCA fixation is the reduction of chromium from the hexavalent to the trivalent state, and the subsequent precipitation or adsorption of chromium, copper and arsenic complexes in the wood substrate. Some of the these reactions, such as the adsorption of copper and chromium onto wood components, occur within minutes or hours while others are completed during the ensuing days or weeks.

The length of time needed for fixation is greatly dependent on temperature, and the reactions may proceed slowly when the treated wood is stored out-doors in cool weather. So, yes, Todd Shupe believes that CCA is safe for people and the environment and is a much better environmental choice than steel or concrete.

Use Tips From Former LSU Professor Todd Shupe To Identify, Properly Dispose Of Chemically-Treated Wood

todd shupe lsu formerThe very fact that readers are looking into proper protocols when it comes to the disposal of treated wood goes to show that more of us have the environment in mind as of late. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), there are local regulations when it comes to the types of wood, which chemicals it was treated with and if your municipality’s trash company will take it away. As the NPIC states, it’s best to both contact your local government to learn about how this wood should be disposed of while making sure to never burn pressure-treated wood, as “the resulting smoke can contain toxic chemicals hazardous to people and the environment.”

The next question that many may be asking is which exact types of wood require this oversight? According to former LSU professor Todd Shupe, whose background in wood sciences includes leading a testing laboratory of four other scientists, it’s the chemicals that make the wood toxic. For example, roadside utility poles are often treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA); the same goes for much of the wood used for residential purposes such as for decks or porches. The breakdown of the CCA chemical combination looks like this: Chromium helps chemicals bind to the wood while copper protects against decay and arsenic wards off termites. According to former LSU professor Todd Shupe, who previously developed a way to remove heavy metals from decommissioned treated wood, there are a number of ways to easily determine if the wood you need to dispose of has been treated with a preservative. These include a stamp or label that clearly states any prior treatment; a presence of green or dark brown colors on unpainted wood; wood that was placed closer to the ground during construction and small surface indentations that were made to make preservative application easier.

The next step after identification is disposal. While burning earns an across-the-board ban, there are regulations surrounding storage after the appropriate group has collected the wood for disposal. According to Todd Shupe, formerly of LSU, these companies can’t store the wood for more than 90 days and it can’t be located near a source of water run-off. To avoid the latter, he suggests that disposal companies stack the wood on a shipping pallet or cover it with a tarp for the period prior to disposal. While the prevalence of treated wood for preservation purposes isn’t likely to dissipate, you’ll be able to deflect damage done to the environment.