Treated wood, a term encompassing various products, has become commonplace in modern construction and woodworking. It’s a form of lumber that has undergone special treatments to enhance its resistance to moisture, fungi, and insects, making it especially valuable in outdoor applications like decks, fences, and playground equipment.
Burning treated wood in a fire pit is a practice that may seem harmless. However, it poses significant risks to human health and the environment, possibly leading to legal consequences. In short, you should not burn treated wood in a fire pit.
This article will delve into the types of treated wood, explore the risks associated with burning such wood in a fire pit, and offer safe alternatives. Let’s jump in:
Can You Burn Treated Wood in a Fire Pit?
You should never burn treated wood in a fire pit. Burning treated wood releases harmful chemicals that can lead to health issues and environmental damage, making it an unsafe and often illegal practice.
Types of Treated Wood
Treated wood is a broad term that covers various types of lumber modified to increase their durability and resistance. Below, we’ll explore the three main categories of treated wood that you’re likely to encounter:
This is the most common type of treated wood. Here’s what you need to know:
How It’s Made: Placing the wood in a large cylinder and forcing preservatives into it gives it enhanced resistance to decay and insects. Chemicals used to pressure treat wood are:
Chromate copper arsenate (CCA) is used in USA and Australia. Alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), used in USA & Canada. Creosote, used in USA and UK. Pentachlorophenol is used in USA. Copper Azole, is used in USA and Canada.
Uses: Perfect for outdoor structures like decks and fences where moisture can be a problem.
What it Looks Like: It often has a greenish tint due to the chemicals used.
Painted or Stained Wood
While not treated in the traditional sense, these woods have a protective layer:
How It’s Made: Painting or staining the wood provides a barrier against moisture and wear.
Uses: Often used in interior settings but can be found outdoors in furniture or decorations.
What it Looks Like: Colors and finishes vary widely, offering aesthetic choices.
Wood Treated with Chemical Preservatives
Special chemicals give this wood extra protection:
How It’s Made: Infusing wood with chemical solutions makes it resistant to rot and pests.
Uses: Commonly used in utility poles, railway ties, and marine applications.
What it Looks Like: This wood may have a slightly different texture than untreated wood, sometimes appearing more slick or oily due to the chemical treatment. Some treated woods are stamped or labeled with information about the treatment, which can provide direct insights into the chemicals used. The color can vary depending on the specific chemicals and treatment process. Some treatments leave a greenish or brownish tint, while others may not visibly alter the color.
What This Means for You
Understanding these types of treated wood helps make informed decisions whether you’re building a new project or considering what to burn in your fire pit. By recognizing the differences, you can choose the right wood for your needs and ensure you use it safely and responsibly.
Health Issues Linked to Burning Treated Wood
Toxic Chemical Release
Treated wood often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, and copper, which are used to prevent rot and insect damage. When burned, these chemicals are released into the air, leading to respiratory issues, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, skin & eye irritation, and long-term health problems.
The harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere also contribute to air pollution. These chemicals can harm wildlife, particularly birds and small mammals.
The ash residue from burning treated wood can contaminate the soil with heavy metals. This contamination can harm plant growth. This is particularly important if you grow your own vegetables.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits burning chemically treated wood, including pressure-treated lumber and plywood [source].
State and local laws in Michigan prohibit open burning that contains chemically treated wood [source].
Indiana’s open burning regulations generally prohibit open burning but allow some exemptions, with specific conditions for burning clean wood products [source].
Depending on local regulations, individuals found burning treated wood may face fines, penalties, or legal actions. Several municipalities across the U.S. have prosecuted individuals for violating local burning ordinances, leading to fines and community service.
Alternatives to Burning Treated Wood
Having gatherings around the fire pit is a cherished tradition, but there are safer ways to enjoy it without burning treated wood. Let’s explore some great alternatives.
Untreated Wood Options
- Seasoned Hardwood: It’s better for the environment and burns cleaner and hotter. Oak, maple, and birch are some excellent choices.
- Softwoods: While they burn faster, softwoods like pine and fir are untreated and can be used for a quick, hot fire. They are often used to start a fire in a fire pit.
- Propane Fire Pits: If you want to avoid wood altogether, propane fire pits are an excellent option. They’re clean, easy to use, and adjustable.
- Bioethanol: This renewable energy source is another option. It’s made from plants and burns clean.
Recycling and Disposal Methods
- Recycling Centers: Many places accept treated wood for recycling. It’s a responsible way to dispose of it.
- Professional Disposal: Contacting a professional disposal service that handles treated wood is another safe option.
Burning treated wood in a fire pit poses serious health risks, environmental damage, and legal consequences. It is not worth the risk to your health, environmental impact, and other potential consequences of burning treated wood.
Stick to softwoods for kindling, and hardwoods for burning, and enjoy your fire pit responsibly.
FAQs About Burning Treated Wood In a Fire Pit
What happens if you burn treated wood?
Burning treated wood in your fire pit can release harmful toxins, such as arsenic and chromium, into the air. These chemicals were infused into the wood during the treatment process to increase its resistance to pests and decay. When burned, this process is reversed, liberating these toxic elements in the form of smoke, which can be hazardous to inhale.
The residue left behind in the ash can contaminate the soil and water, posing an environmental threat. It is essential to avoid burning treated wood to ensure your safety and that of the environment.
What wood should you not burn in a fire pit?
Refrain from burning wood that has been treated with chemicals, stained, painted, or glued, as they can release toxic fumes when burned. Avoid using softwoods like pine and fir since they tend to pop and explode. Woods that have a high moisture content should also be avoided as they produce more smoke and can be hard to ignite. Opt for seasoned hardwoods such as oak, hickory, or maple to have a safe and clean burning fire pit.
Can you burn treated wood outdoors?
While burning treated wood outdoors may seem like a safer option compared to burning it indoors due to better ventilation, it is still not advisable. The combustion of treated wood releases dangerous chemicals into the air, impacting air quality and posing health risks to individuals.
Moreover, the ash resulting from the burned treated wood can contaminate soil and water bodies, causing environmental degradation. It is recommended to dispose of treated wood through appropriate methods, such as taking it to a licensed landfill or recycling facility, to ensure safety and environmental conservation.
Is it safe to burn treated wood in a log burner?
Burning treated wood in a log burner is not safe due to the release of toxic chemicals, including arsenic and chromium, which were used to treat the wood. These chemicals can produce harmful smoke that poses serious health risks to individuals when inhaled.
Furthermore, the chemicals remain in the ash, making it a hazardous material that can contaminate your home and the environment. To safeguard the health of individuals and protect the environment, it is critical to avoid burning treated wood in a log burner and to only use untreated, well-seasoned wood.
Can you burn treated wood after 10 years?
Even after a span of 10 years, burning treated wood remains unsafe. Over time, although the outer appearance of the wood may change, the chemicals infused into the wood during the treatment process remain present.
When burned, these chemicals are released into the air and the remaining ash, posing health risks to individuals and environmental hazards. Therefore, irrespective of its age, treated wood should not be used as fuel for burning in any setting to ensure safety and environmental conservation. Proper disposal methods should be followed, regardless of the age of the treated wood.