We were sitting outside Lowes yesterday and right before me sat stacks and stacks of landscape timbers, both marked treated and unmarked (which leads to assume they are untreated). I hear a lot of debating going on about which is better with folks on one side arguing that it’s not as bad as you would think and the others saying that treated lumber is the Devil.
But I want to take the argument of the chemicals involved a little further than the traditional conversation of “Will it leach in my garden?” Some people feel uncomfortable thinking that their edibles will be contaminated beyond what nature intended and choose to not use treated lumber for their outdoor projects while others argue that they prize the durability of treated lumber and the health risks are minimal and/or exaggerated.
Point 1– There has to be a factory to get the treatment into the lumber. Factories are going to have run-off. They’re going to have chemical waste. They have to have containers that will hold the chemicals, machines to inject the wood. There is going to be scrap wood from errors in runs. There will be hazardous trash. There will be people working in the factories exposed to these chemicals. (Check out this report, This and This.)
And that isn’t even taking into account the factories that are in charge of making the chemicals, transporting them to the factories and the whole slew of environmental impacts that surround that hot mess.
Point 2- The chemicals have to go somewhere. Whether we’re talking about man-made non-organic chemicals or those extracted from organic sources and concentrated, the fact remains that chemicals have to go somewhere. It could be in your garden, your water supply, the air you breath, those chemicals -just because they are no longer present in direct contact with your plants or in high concentrations in the lumber – do not cease to exist just because you can’t see it or test for it. So, they’re somewhere doing God knows what to something.
That’s just science. And yes, I realize that over time chemical compositions will break down but the essence of the chemicals used to treat wood are to resist that decay.
Point 3- Wood was made with the intention to rot. That’s just nature. Wood is a strong, hearty, renewable resource with a shelf life. This is the basis of our entire eco-system, that nothing, at all, ever, is expected to retain it’s original composition for more than it’s intended time. Rocks erode, water is in a constant cycle, and wood was made to rot and decay. Once we start changing the components of a material so that it’s fundamental properties are forever changed, we have introduced something into our environment that was never intended. The basic cyclical nature of these things is compromised and the strain on that cycle can cause it to eventually break.
The land was made to renew. The area where a wooden house was built a thousand years ago, battered by weather, worn by use and eventually rotted into rich humus, mixed into the existing earth providing fertile area to use for crops or for the forest to reclaim to provide new wood for later generations to use.
Wood treated with chemicals to lengthen it’s life cannot ever be burned without creating toxic waste. It will, eventually, breakdown with the toxic humus mixing into the earth, the shards thrown into hazardous landfills or irresponsible people casting it into city trash where it will be burned, releasing carcinogenic chemicals into the air supply.
We have taken an extension of our Earth and made it harmful to everything and everyone. Why? So we can edge gardens, sit on decks, hold up mailboxes and a slew of other conveniences and not have to be bothered with the natural function of the material we use.
The next time you are shopping for wood consider looking for a local mill that specializes in naturally resistant wood like cedar or oak. The expense out of your pocket might be greater for these woods but otherwise the cost is just too high.