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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hidden Danger of Wood Pallet Upcycling

It is so trendy and seemingly green to reclaim the discarded wood from wooden pallets and turn it into adorable home decor. Pinterest has been a breeding ground for creative ways to use these wood pallets, from headboards, couches, shelves, and tables, to placemats, pet beds, and children's toy baskets.
I researched the safety of wood pallets months ago and have become terribly burdened because I don't think most people know HOW dangerous these wood pallets can be. I don't want to burst your DIY bubble, or make you feel guilty, but I think you should at least know the potential dangers so you can make an educated decision about whether or not pallet decor is for you and your family or not. 
After the outbreak of Ecoli in lettuce in 2010 the FDA did its FIRST EVER study on the safety of wood pallets, which are used to transport almost all of our food and other goods.
The safety of these food transporting pallets was completely unregulated and now only suggested safer pallet practices be used to help protect our food, but only on the pallets that transport food. 
Like for example, it is no longer 'recommended' that a pallet that transported seafood, be used to transport produce on its next trip. As far as I could tell, there are still no real set laws or regulations governing pallet use. Also keep in mind, each pallet can be used as many times as it will hold up, and these pallets could have been stored wherever, for however long- then they get to be called "recycled."
Your tree hugging heart may go out to these discarded wooden pallets, but be mindful that most pallets, especially the ones you might find "for free" outside behind a big box store (or online!) have already lived a long life, and as my mother would say "don't pick that up, you don't know where that's been."
Furthermore, regardless of the materials from which it is made, any pallet that is not properly cleaned between trips increases the likelihood of cross-contamination. Storing a pallet outside, in unsanitary areas, in places accessible to vermin {and vermin waste}, or near potential contaminants {like near dumpsters, where bacteria spillage may be on the ground} increases the chances that the pallet could harbor dangerous pathogens. In conducting our testing, we observed that wood pallets – which we found to have a higher incidence of pathogens – are more often stored outside and exposed to weather, rodents, bird droppings, and insects. Among additional considerations is the use of damaged wood pallets; splinters or sharp points can damage the packaging of products, {OR YOUR SKIN} creating an entryway for pathogens. via
Not to mention these pallets could be harboring mold, mildew, and larvae you may not be able to see. gag. 
If the wood is made of pressed wood or particle wood, there is a pretty high chance it contains formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, meaning we know it causes CANCER. In addition to cancer it can cause watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. 
Read more about the dangers of formaldehyde here. 
In order to extend the life of these pallets they are often treated with chemicals including pesticides, poisons, and fungicides like 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA), which is the fungicide that led to the 2010 recall on TYLENOL Arthritis Pain Meds. The wooden pallets transporting the boxes containing the empty bottles and packing material for TYLENOL were treated with TBA. These pills caused nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea FROM THE EMPTY BOTTLES BEING TRANSPORTED ON A TREATED PALLET, not even directly touching the pills! They don't have to mark the pallets with anything to say what the pallets were treated with, and if the pallets started their journey in another country.....even scarier what they may have been exposed to. 
Pallets marked with HT, means they were heat treated, or kiln dried and no chemicals were used on this wood. This wood should only be used if you are SURE of what was transported on it, and you know it was not exposed to the outdoors (remember vermin and bird droppings.)

SO PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE procede with caution. If you are not worried and still interested in upcycling wood pallets, here are a few pointers from Funky Junk, on how to pick safer pieces. 

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