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Treated Wood Can Be Deadly in Fireplace


Arkansas, High Plains Journal - Midwest Ag Journal

Colder temperatures have Arkansas firing up their fireplaces and wood stoves. And although burning scrap lumber or poles sounds like a good idea, experts recommend that you never burn treated wood in stoves, fireplaces, or even bonfires.

They warn that when burned, treated wood can release pollutants harmful to your health into the air. Toxic chemicals may also be concentrated in the resulting ash.

You’re risking your life and the lives of your family if you burn chemically treated wood in a fireplace or wood stove, according to Dr. Tamara Walkingstick, forester for the University of Arkansas cooperative Extension Service.

"One of the chemical preservatives used primarily on telephone pole wood is pentachlorophenol or penta," noted Walkingstick. "A fence post or scrap of lumber treated with penta gives off deadly chlorine gas when it’s burned."

Another chemical, chromated copper arsenate, or CCA is used to protect fence posts and lumber from insects and diseases. Burning CCA-treated wood, which has a yellowish-green to brown tint, can result in arsenic poisoning if the ashes are touched, ingested or inhaled. Many states have banned any burning of CCA treated wood.

"Also, avoid creosote, a brownish, oily chemical used as a preservative on railroad ties and power line and telephone poles," said Walkingstick. "When wood treated with creosote is burned, it produces thick smoke and an unpleasant odor.

"Creosote creates a fire hazard, too. The heavy smoke leaves a coating of unburned, highly flammable tar and creosote on chimney walls. Residue in the upper part of the chimney can ignite and set your roof on fire."

Walkingstick said that the wood-treating industry has voluntarily agreed to reduce and eliminate the use of CCA in wood used for residential purposes. Treated wood used by homeowners purchased after January 2004 is required to be treated with chemicals that have no known adverse impact on health and the environment. However, homeowners should remain diligent and not burn any treated wood.

Purchase and burn only seasoned firewood. Imitation logs are probably best for homeowners who only use their fireplaces periodically.