What to Do About Pressure-Treated Wood

Dear Annie,
I have pressure treated wood in my garden. Should I be concerned? If so, what do I do about it? –Sam, GA

Dear Sam,

Yes, sadly, you do need to be concerned about it. Hopefully your garden beds are for flowers and not food. Even then you need to be concerned about arsenic leaching into the surrounding soil. Pressure-treated wood is mostly treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), made of chromium, copper, and arsenic. Having been used since the 1940s, there has been increasing concern since the 1990s that the lumber will exude toxic amounts of arsenic.

If you have raised beds for vegetables I’d start from scratch and remove the pressure treated wood and call your local hazardous waste pickup about removing it. Even sealing in the wood (see below) doesn’t feel safe enough to me for food. All the soil needs to be removed from the old beds and replaced with new. Replace the wood itself with something non-toxic, such as recycled plastic lumber or Timbersil.

For flower beds and decks, seal the stuff in using a water-based penetrating sealant every six months. The EPA recommends either an oil or water-based penetrating sealant every year, but I’d not suggest an oil-based sealant unless the oil was from soy or other plant and not petroleum, so as not to pollute the area further, and to reseal every six months to be on the safe side. With arsenic readily found in pesticides, we don’t need additional sources of arsenic in our own homes and gardens. Read about the EPA’s sealant studies to help you determine what option is best for you.

Make sure not to burn CCA-treated wood as the fumes would be full of arsenic. Also make sure to use a mask if you need to cut it.

A good resource about arsenic-treated wood hazards and alternatives is found on the healthybuilding.net.


16 comments

Raymond Helmer
Raymond Helmerabout a year ago

pressure treated lumber is TOXIC, causes cancer, breathing problems. horses and pets have been killed due to toxic arsenic levels, we use this lumber around our gardens. in our playgrounds our kids play in. on our decks and docks. this lumber is unsafe around waterways, kills aquatics and fish. stop using this poison lumber.
theres a NEW lumber coming out. PRESERVA BOARD its 100% environmentally safe. it lasts a lifetime. and because it lasts a lifetime, it will save millions of trees, it will save our environment, and benefit our future please help everyone know about this product, twitter- Preserva Board Inc. learn about this 100% safe product.
and then go to pressure treated lumber lawsuits. and learn about all the unsafe conditions of using this lumber, please help make our environment safe. use PRESERVA BOARD lumber, the ONLY lifetime lumber, 100% environmentally safe.
and 2 young men ages 16 & 18 designed this product and company.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

It's troubling, so many people still don't know this.
Thanks for this.

Kath R.
Kath P.3 years ago

My husband wanted to use pressure treated wood to make our raised vegetable beds but I wouldn't let him. I'm glad that I stood my ground.

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago

Thanks!~

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago

Thanks!~

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks.

Karen R.
Karen R.4 years ago

Anyone can make their wood better than pressure treated. There is a product you can order online at: www.Scientificep.com.
The product is Perma-Wood and there is a short video explaining the product and how it works. It removes the water from the wood in 48 hours. It allows the solution to bond with the water and subsequently water proofs the wood from the inside out. It further performs as a termiticide and a fungicide that provides additional protection to the wood.

Robert O.
Robert O.5 years ago

Thanks.

Tom Sullivan
Tom C Sullivan5 years ago

Again Big Business lies to us. I would use natural cedar for these projects, or river rock.