Toxic Chemicals in Wood Pallets?

Question from Deborah

Are there toxins in wood pallets? I’m thinking of making a pallet garden using some vegetable plants. Thank you. Deborah

Debra’s Answer

Yes, there are toxins of various kinds in pallets. However, it depends on the pallet.

Here are some articles with points to consider about pallets:

How to Determine if a Wood Pallet is Safe for Use

The Truth about Pallets: Pharmaceutical Product Recalls Continue — Due to Wood Pallet Exposure! talks about various ways toxic chemicals in pallets get into consumer products

Apartment Therapy: Upcycled Wooden Pallets: Green Resource of Toxic Trend? discusses various different types of health concerns associated with pallets

And just for interest sake: Here’s a copy of a historical document from 1959 about why pallets SHOULD be treated with preservatives, written at a time when they were not. They recommend treating with chlordane and DDT, pentachlorophenol and copper napthenate, all very toxic. DDT has been banned since. Preservatives for Wood Pallets

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2 Comments

  1. I work for a company that disposes of hazardous waste and we store and transport the drums on wood pallets. Our customers also do the same thing. Pallets are used over and over by different industries and there is no way of knowing if your pallet at one time transported boxes of food or drums of industrial solvent. If you’ve ever seen a pallet yard you would see that there are thousands of wood pallets stacked all over the place. I would not use any pallets inside or outside for any use.

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  2. My tiny kitchen counter is made from pallets. i had no idea they could be chemically treated. i am so worried about the exposure I may be getting from this. Is is safe to assume you would recommend ripping them out? They are beautiful oak and have been shellacked. I thought they would look like treated lumber if there were chemicals in it.

    COMMENT FROM DEBRA:

    Here’s more information about pallets.

    As a result of the International Plant Protection Convention (abbreviated IPPC), most pallets shipped across national borders must be made of materials that are not capable of being a carrier of invasive species of insects and plant diseases.

    According to ISPM 15, pallets made of raw, untreated wood are not compliant.

    To be compliant the pallets (or other wood packaging material) must be treated by either of the following means under the supervision of an approved agency:

    * Heat treatment The wood must be heated to achieve a minimum core temperature of 132.8 °F for at least 30 minutes. Pallets so treated bear the initials HT near the IPPC logo.

    * Chemical fumigation The wood must be fumigated with methyl bromide. Pallets so treated bear the initials MB near the IPPC logo.

    From 19 March 2010 the use of Methyl Bromide as an acceptable treatment according to ISPM 15 has now been banned within all EU member states. I don’t know what they are being treated with now, or if they are all heat treated.

    Treated wood pallets must be stamped on two opposite sides indicating either HT for heat treated or MB for methyl bromide treatment.

    If you have items made from pallets where you cannot examine the pallets used to see if they are HT or MB, the prudent thing to do would be to remove the item made from pallets. Methyl bromide is extremely toxic, so much so that the EU banned it’s use.

    But I don’t see any problem recycling wooden pallets clearly marked HT, except for the possibility they may have been contaminated with MB being in contact with other older MB pallets that may still be in use.

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