The truth about CCA Treated Timber

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CCA wood

CCA stands for Chromated copper arsenate. This mix of chemicals has been used to preserve timber since the mid-1930s. If you ever see CCA-treated timber, know that this mix also gives the timber a distinctly green tint.

Every element of the mix serves a certain purpose:

– Copper resists rot or decay caused by fungal attack

– Chromium fixes the preservative to the cell walls in the timber so it doesn’t leach out

– Arsenate resists attack by insects such as borers and termites

The main concern with CCA-treated timber is that it contains arsenic. It is said to pose a danger to human health if inhaled or ingested. It’s no wonder people would ask whether CCA-treated timber is deemed safe to use.

At Sabie Poles, we believe that knowledge is power. The more you know about the product you are buying, the more you can feel rest assured that you got value for your money. So, here is the truth about CCA Treated Timber.

Keep in mind that the information stated below is only relevant to CCA-treated timber products that have been strictly treated correctly. This is why it is important to buy from a well-trusted supplier such as Sabie Poles who adheres to all the protocols to ensure the timber products are of high-quality and safe to use. 

Our accreditation exceeds the minimum requirements to be a CCA Treated Manufacturer and supplier. All our CCA-treated products have the SABS and NRCS stamp of approval. Furthermore, we have certification and membership with some of the top contributors in the CCA Manufacturing and forestry bodies like SAWPA (South African Wood Preservers Association).

CCA treated timber that comes into contact with humans

CCA-treated timber contains arsenic but the degree to which people, particularly children, can be exposed to it from contact with the timber is harmless. Arsenic is the 20th most common element on earth, which means animal life can cope with some level of arsenic.

There have been no known instances where exposure to CCA-treated timber has led to life-threatening or debilitating illnesses.

Here are some studies to support this conclusion:

– In 2005, public health physician Dr. Deborah Read produced a report that had been commissioned by the then New Zealand Environmental Risk Management Authority. She concluded that, 

“There are no epidemiological studies or human case reports involving disease related to direct contact with CCA-treated wood and the low-level exposures that most of the general population will experience from contact with CCA-treated wood are extremely unlikely to result in acute health effects. CCA-treated wood has also been in use for many years without discernible adverse health effects suggesting that if there is a true increased risk it is very small.”

– Since Dr. Read’s report was published, Dr. Bruce Graham, a New Zealand environmental scientist, has reviewed the issue several times. In his latest review in 2009, Dr. Graham evaluated the findings of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) which led to its decision to re-register chromated arsenicals in September 2008. He noted, 

“The final report on the US EPA’s assessment of child exposures from playground equipment and decks has shown that estimated exposures to arsenic and chromium are within acceptable limits for non-cancer effects, except at the very upper end of the exposure distribution for arsenic, while the median results for cancer effects are very close to the target level of 1 per 100,000 normally applied in New Zealand risk assessments. The EPA assessment is inherently conservative.”

– In an extensive review of internationally published literature conducted for the New Zealand Timber Preservation Council in 2003, Dr. Wayne Temple, Director of the National Poisons Centre and Dr. Peter Di Marco, Director of BenchMark Toxicology Services, Perth, Australia concluded, 

“In the context of possible adverse health effects through exposure to CCA treated wood, the scientific evaluation is clear – there simply is no significant risk.”

CCA treated timber

CCA treated timber that comes into contact with animals

Using CCA treated timber shavings should not be used for animal bedding even though suggestions from some studies have shown that it can reduce the exposure of animals to disease-causing microorganisms that inhabit untreated bedding.

CCA-treated posts are mostly used in farm fencing without any trouble. However, because CCA formulations tend to be ‘salty’, horses, in particular, may chew the timber. This activity does not appear to affect their health but it can ruin the fences. Luckily, Modern oxide formulations of CCA are less salty and hence probably less attractive to horses.

If CCA-treated posts have been burned in a paddock, the stock should be kept out until the remnants have been removed or buried. The salty contaminated ash may attract animals and can be fatal if consumed.

CCA-treated timber is not recommended for bee boxes. Studies in the United States found bees picked up trace amounts of arsenic to their detriment.

CCA treated timber

Using CCA Treated timber for vegetable gardens

Small amounts of arsenic may leach from treated wood into the soil but it generally stays in the area immediately surrounding the timber. 

The uptake of arsenic by plants is generally limited due to:

  • their distance from the source
  • the low amount in the soil
  • the limited uptake by vegetables generally.

As an additional precaution, place a plastic liner between the soil and the timber

Precautions when using CCA treated timber

Wear a mask to avoid breathing treated timber dust

– When you are working with CCA treated timber, it is always necessary that everyone nearby should wear a mask. This applies to everything from sawing and drilling to cutting the treated timber. This not only applies to treated timber but also to any type of untreated timber.

Even when working with untreated timber, the dust from the wood can result in serious health effects. This is due to the fine dust particles that make their way into your lungs.

Wear Gloves to prevent pressure treated timber splinter infection

– When you’re working with any type of timber, treated or untreated, it is wise to use gloves to avoid cuts and splinters. When you are working with treated timber, it becomes more important. 

A simple splinter from pressure-treated timber might result in a small infection. If you are unable to get the splinter out and the pain is persistent, we recommend you visit a doctor for the removal.

Timber Allergy Treatment

– Sometimes it is possible for a person to be allergic to a certain element in the treated timber. Unfortunately, there is not much a person can do regarding these allergies. Any over-the-counter allergy medicine should clear up any symptoms you might present with when being around CCA Treated timber.

Safety tips for disposal of CCA treated timber

Reporting of health conditions and issues has only been as a result of incorrect use and exposure to timber. In the same way, heating and cooking on fire made with CCA Treated Timber are prohibited due to health concerns. Here are some safety tips to follow:

– Small volumes of CCA-treated timber waste or off-cuts from domestic or residential uses should be disposed of through normal waste collection services.

– In some cases, CCA-treated timber can be reused in other applications.

– Generally, CCA-treated timber structures do not need to be replaced. However, if it needs to be repaired, you should consider replacement or use other forms of CCA-treated timber.

– CCA-treated timber should never be burned in barbeques, fireplaces, or wood-burning stoves or in any confined space, as toxic fumes and residues will be produced.

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