Health risks: treated timber

Timber treatments can be hazardous to health, so care must be taken when working with treated timbers.

Timber treatment prevents deterioration by insect or fungal attack and preserves the quality of the timber. Unfortunately, the chemicals that are used to preserve timber are also hazardous to people. Precautions must be taken by anyone working with treated timber including those who carry out the treatment and those who work with treated timber.

Before the introduction of pinus radiata, timber was not generally treated. As the use of pinus radiata increased, the need for treatment was recognised. Initially this was boric treatment for interior use timber against insect (particularly borer) attack. CCA (copper chromium arsenic) treatment was also used but primarily only for fencing and poles (exterior use).

Handling boric-treated timber

Although boric-treated timber has low toxicity to people and causes no know respiratory or skin problems, all treated timber should be handled with caution. In particular, all fine wood dust is hazardous and handling should involve protection to eyes, respiratory systems and the skin.

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Handling CCA-treated timber

All components of CCA preservative are toxic so precautions must be taken when handling timber. Precautions include:

  • Cut, sand and machine timber outdoors.
  • Always wear a dusk mask, eye protection and gloves.
  • Clean up all sawdust, off-cuts and dispose of appropriately.
  • Do not burn CCA-treated timber.
  • Do not dispose of CCA-treated by mulching or composting.
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking and smoking.
  • Wash all exposed parts of your body thoroughly when work is completed.
  • Wash work clothes separately from other clothing.