Do you know what
UPdate spring 2005
As energy prices rise, more people are burning wood. Most
people are aware of basic wood burning safety precautions, such as having flues
and chimneys cleaned and inspected regularly. But here’s another burning safety
issue which few people have thought about -- everything that creates heat isn’t
safe to burn.
Many people think its a
good idea to burn up old scrap wood, like an old deck or old plywood. They think
they are helping the environment, or want to save a few dollars on dump fees.
Some contractors may even suggest burning waste from a project to save you money
on dumping. A word to the wise - DON’T!
Burning anything other than dry firewood can be very risky.
Many building materials contain chemicals which were never meant to be burned.
Burning some wood products will expose you to toxic chemicals and heavy metals
you didn’t even know were there. Smoke particles can be deeply inhaled, which
makes them especially hazardous. Ash left from burning hazardous materials may
contain concentrated amounts of chemicals and heavy metals.
Don’t burn any type of treated wood. Old
decks were often built of pressure treated wood, which contains arsenic and
chromium. Older treated wood loses its greenish colour, so you can’t tell if
its treated. Wood treated with creosote is also extremely toxic when burned.
Burning either is prohibited anywhere in Canada.
Don’t burn any wood that has been painted
or stained. Paints used until 1978 contained lead, paints used until 1990
contained mercury. Paints containing PCBs were widely used from the 1940s to
the 1970s to improve durability and flexibility and to improve resistance to
fire damage and moisture. “Burning wood and other materials coated with
paint containing PCBs results in much higher exposure to the harmful
chemicals,” cautions Health Canada, “but an even greater concern is the
danger of exposure to dioxins and furans, which are produced when PCBs are
burned at lower temperatures.” Old stains may also contain toxic
ingredients. Even some new paints include ingredients which should never be
burned, for example paints containing Teflon which produces a very hazardous
gas if burned.
Don’t burn particleboard, plywood or
other composite wood products. These products are held together by glues
which may contain cyanide and other extremely hazardous substances. Old sub
flooring and furniture are often made of composite wood products.
Don’t burn wood from orchards which have
been sprayed with pesticides. The Lung Association warns that burning wood
containing pesticides can be very hazardous.
“Never burn magazines, gift wrap, or
colored paper,” warns the US Department of Energy. “They all produce
particles that can clog a fireplace or wood stove's air passages and can
also produce noxious, corrosive or even carcinogenic gases.”
“The problem with burning things other than
firewood is that you do not know what could be an ingredient in a seemingly
harmless product,” says health advocate Deborah Barrie. “The money saved from
disposal fees will never make up for the cost to your health or even touch the
cleanup on the home.” Barrie herself became permanently disabled from a neighbor
who burned CCA pressure treated wood in his garage hobby shop. She now works to
assist people who have become sick from exposures to treated wood.
Burn Wise: trying to save a few dollars by
burning hazardous wood products could cost you your health, require very costly
cleanup to your home, and harm the environment.