I am creating a new garden on the cheap. I have big plans for raised beds and I’m looking for re-purposed materials to build them. I was able to scoop up a bundle of pallets from the local mini-storage for free. Cheap is good, but not at the expense of my family’s health. Therefore, I had to do research on pallet safety.
I’ve heard that pallets can be treated with methyl bromide, which is listed as an endocrine-disrupting chemical on the EU list. According to the California Proposition 65 List, methyl bromide also has far-reaching effects on biological reproduction and development.
Since soil can pick up chemicals leaching from reclaimed wood, I need to be sure that my “free” pallets are not going to cause us long-term harm, as no garden is worth health complications.
Pallet Safety Comes First
From the website of the EPA: “Methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas used to control a wide variety of pests in agriculture and shipping, including fungi, weeds, insects, nematodes (or roundworms), and rodents.
Methyl bromide is highly toxic. Studies in humans indicate that the lung may be severely injured by the acute (short-term) inhalation of methyl bromide. Acute and chronic (long-term) inhalation of methyl bromide can lead to neurological effects in humans. Neurological effects have also been reported in animals.”
Methyl bromide can be devastating to the human body, being able to enter it through inhalation when breathing contaminated air. It can also enter your body through the skin or through the eyes. Both happen when you make direct contact with the substance, which can happen without your knowledge, especially if you are within distance and lack protective gear.
The symptoms of inhaling methyl bromide are abdominal pain, convulsions, dizziness, headache, labored breathing, vomiting, weakness, hallucinations, loss of speech, and incoordination. Kidney damage is also likely if severe amounts of methyl bromide have been inhaled. When exposed to skin, it can cause tingling and itching. It can also be absorbed through the skin: symptoms of absorption are redness, burning sensation, pain, and blisters.
Redness, pain, blurred vision, and temporary loss of vision are the symptoms that occur when methyl bromide comes in the contact with eyes. The EPA lists methyl bromide as a “highly acute toxic.”
Fortunately, methyl bromide has not been used to fumigate pallets since 2005, but there are still old pallets in circulation, which means that you need to be on the lookout for them. If you find an MB pallet, please do not use it for your craft project, in the garden, or as firewood. Instead, find a waste removal company that can dispose of it properly.
Here’s How to Make Sure That Your Pallet Is Safe to Use
Every pallet has a label stamped on it somewhere. If your pallet does not have this label, then it means that it was produced locally or at the very least in your country and is thus designed for domestic use. However, it is better to be safe than sorry, so using pallets without a stamp is not recommended, as you are putting yourself at risk.
The label should have several codes on it that list:
- the country where it originated
- the IPPC logo
- how it was treated
- it may have a unique numerical code
- a logo identifying the inspector
ONLY pallets marked HT (heat treatment) are safe to use. DB means that the wood was debarked. It has no bearing on the safety of the pallet. MB means that hazardous methyl bromide was used to treat the wood, so steer clear of such pallets if you want to use them for your edible garden crops, as they will toxify them with chemicals, which can lead to devastating health complications.
Don’t use MB-marked pallets for indoor heating, such as by burning, as methyl bromide releases toxic fumes that can be hazardous to both human and animal health in the long run. One study found that the inhalation of such fumes can scar the human lungs even after short-term exposure.
To make matters worse, acute exposure to methyl bromide can lead to pulmonary edema, a condition in which there is too much fluid in the lungs and that is known to cause severe respiratory issues.
What’s more is that methyl bromide is known to be an ozone-depleting chemical, which is one of the reasons why several nations have decided to ban it altogether, including the United States. Methyl bromide depletes the ozone layer, meaning that it is easier for ultraviolet sunlight to reach the Earth, which is detrimental to our quality of life, as ozone is essential when filtering harmful radiation.
Despite international bans, the chemical is still being used. Certain foods in North America are known to contain methyl bromide since it is very effective at killing off nematodes, fungi, and weeds, all while being cheap when compared to alternatives.
The KD stamp on a wooden pallet means that it was “kiln-dried.” This process refers to drying the pallet in a special oven called a kiln with the intent of bringing down its moisture levels so that rot and fungal growth can be prevented, among other issues that might appear. KD doesn’t mean that the wood is hazardous for human health and pallets that have been stamped as such can be used in safety.
From 1001Pallets.com – “Wooden pallets manufactured in Canada or the United States undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating (HT) which involves heating the pallet to (a) minimum core temperature of 56°C (132°F) for softwoods and 60°C (140°F) for hardwoods for a minimum of 30 minutes in a kiln. HT pallets are not harmful to your health and can be used in safety.“
There is one final thing to check before using a found pallet. If the wood is visibly stained and you don’t know “where your pallet has been,” then you should absolutely not use those stained boards. While it might be a harmless stain, such as from soda, or less harmful substances such as oil, the risk of it being far more than that does not justify using it. Practicing pallet safety is highly important for a perfect and stress-free gardening experience.
If you look at the picture depicting a stack of pallets at the beginning of this post you can see one that is visibly darker than the rest. That is a warning sign that the pallet may have been exposed to other chemicals. Using caution when using them is unnecessary, as the recommended approach is to discard them altogether and to use pallets you are utterly sure are safe.
Now you know how to keep your family safe when you find free pallets. The ones that are marked with HT are generally safe, so if you have any in your possession, then go make those planter boxes and get gardening! Remember: always keep pallet safety in mind!
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