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Preservative-Treated Wood and Alternative Products in the Forest Service

Introduction

This report is an update to Selection and Use of Preservative-Treated Wood in Forest Service Recreational Structures (9523 1203 SDTDC, LeBow and Makel 1995). One of the main types of wood preservatives, chromated copper arsenate (CCA), has been voluntarily phased out for most uses around residential areas and other areas where human contact with preservative-treated wood is common. This updated report will discuss different preservative treatments to replace CCA and alternative materials that can be used instead of preservative-treated wood, such as decay-resistant heartwoods, plastic wood, and vinyl.

Wood is treated with preservatives to protect it from wood-destroying fungi and insects. Treating wood with preservative chemicals can increase the service life of wood by a factor of five times or more. Wood treated with commonly used wood preservatives can last 40 years or more in service. Preservative-treated wood (figure 1) is an economical, durable, and aesthetically pleasing building material and is a natural choice for many construction projects in the national forests.

When treated wood is used in field settings, the possibility of environmental contamination raises concerns. There is increasing pressure to be environmentally friendly and to reduce, restrict, or eliminate the use of wood preservatives because of the concern that toxic constituents may leach from the treated wood. This report will provide an overview of preservative systems, help readers understand the level of risk and status of the science involved in evaluating preservative systems, and provide some guidelines for using the products.

Photo of a building with a water wheel along a boulder-filled stream.  Near the building is a bridge that crosses the stream.
Figure 1—A stress-laminated road bridge
constructed with creosote-treated wood
near the Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock
State Park, WV.