The below is a guest article by Mike Honeycutt, director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Environmental Defense Fund appreciates the agency’s efforts to alert the public to a serious indoor air health issue.
At the Toxicology Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), we often receive phone calls from citizens with questions about various environmental concerns. Over the past few months, we have received several calls asking whether it is safe to use old wood materials inside homes, the most concerning coming last week from a Dallas-Ft real estate agent. . Value area. She had recently shown several homes she suspected of using treated wood materials from telephone poles and sleepers as rustic accents. The real estate agent was concerned with the use of these materials indoors where people could be displayed – and his intuition was perfect.[Tweet “Rustic or Dangerous? Why Keeping Treated Wood Materials Indoors Can be a Bad Idea”]
Telephone poles, sleepers and other wooden materials intended for outdoor use can be treated with chemicals to prevent damage from insects and weathering. One of the most common wood preservatives is creosote, which can contain chemicals such as phenols, cresols, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that can volatilize into the air.
In enclosed spaces like homes, especially today’s homes that are hermetically sealed for energy efficiency, these chemicals can build up to levels of health concern. These chemicals are respiratory irritants, and prolonged exposure can lead to other serious health problems, possibly even cancer. There are no government approved uses of creosote to treat wood for interior and residential purposes.
Some wooden pallets have been treated with chemicals, so do-it-yourselfers should be careful of the source of the wood. Even if they are not chemically treated, the pallets may have transported food or materials sprayed with pesticides or other toxic chemicals.
The TCEQ is a strong supporter of the recycling and reuse of materials. However, using treated lumber inside your home can be a bad idea. Treated wood should be sold with end tags or stamps that identify the type of preservative used on the wood. If you don’t see a label or stamp, ask the retailer or builder.
More information on creosote: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=18
Photo source: flickr / Jessica Wilson