A fellow named Paul emailed me with this question:
I really like what you have set out to do with these projects. It is so important that we find new ways to structure our social systems so that they are more inclusive of alternative, lower embedded-energy housing solutions. Recycling is the most obvious way of lowering the environmental cost of building – particularly if the recycled material is destined to be junked. I have one little concern though – I have heard that many products in shipping containers are routinely doused or loaded with pesticides before being allowed through customs. If true, this would mean many imported products are coated in a layer of poison. Wouldn’t this be absorbed into the timber of the pallets? Has any organisation ever conducted toxicity tests on pallets to establish whether they are safe to use, especially around children? Cheers, Paul
Here is my answer:
I know of no studies, and no expert myself, but the knowledgable people I’ve consulted tell me that any reclaimed wood should be handled carefully especially when being cut or sanded – and never burned if suspected of contamination. These activities, especially burning, could release anything bound to the wood so proper safety measures should be taken – use of respirators, etc.
The other thing that was conveyed to me was that most of the fumigants known to be used on pallet shipments evaporate/dissipate quickly, so little residue would theoretically be left on the wood. A good layer of sealant over the finished wood would be a wise precaution, but make your own decisions about safety.
Lastly… considering the amount of toxic chemicals used in many manufactured wood based materials and their known dangers I suspect an old pallet is the least of our worries – but that is just my humble opinion.
It’s an excellent question. In short, use caution when handling any reclaimed material.