Making Sure It’s Safe to Create Planter Boxes From Pallets
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 health.
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 has effects on reproduction and development.
Since soil can pick up chemicals leaching from the reclaimed wood, I need to be sure that my “free” pallets are not going to cause us long term harm.
Pallet Safety Comes First
From the website Toxipedia: “Methyl bromide is a broad spectrum pesticide used in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens, and rodents. In the U.S., methyl bromide has been used in agriculture, primarily for soil fumigation, as well as for commodity and quarantine treatment, and structural fumigation.”
Methyl bromide can enter the body through inhalation by breathing air contaminated with methyl bromides, through your skin or through the eyes.
The symptoms of inhalation of methyl bromide are abdominal pain, convulsions, dizziness, headache, labored breathing, vomiting, weakness, hallucinations, loss of speech and incoordination. 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 which occur when methyl bromide comes in the contact with eyes. The EPA lists methyl bromide as “highly acute toxic”.
Fortunately, methyl bromide has not been used to fumigate pallets since 2005, but there are still old pallets in circulation and 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 who 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 in somewhere. If your pallet does not have this label it means that it was produced in the country and is designed for domestic use. However, it is better to be safe than sorry and not use pallets without a stamp – 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
*and a logo identifying the inspector
ONLY pallets marked HT – for 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 the hazardous Methyl Bromide was used to treat the wood – so, steer clear of such pallets if you want to use them for your edible crops in the garden.
Also, don’t use MB-marked pallets for heating indoors, as methyl bromide releases toxic fumes that can be hazardous to human and animal health in the long run. One study found that inhalation of these fumes can scar the human lungs even after short-term use.
What’s more, methyl bromide is known as an ozone-depleting chemical, which is why several nations have decided to ban it altogether, U.S. included. However, despite the international bans, the chemical is still being used even on food in Northern America since it is very effective at killing off nematodes, fungi, and weeds while not being very expensive.
The KD stamp on a wood pallet means that the pallet was Kiln Dried, namely dried in a special oven known as kiln to bring down moisture levels in order to prevent rot and fungal growth among other issued that might appear. KD doesn’t mean the wood is hazardous for the human health.
From 1001Pallets.com – “wooden pallets manufactured in Canada or the US undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating (HT) which involves heating the pallet to 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.”
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 pallets been” you should probably not use those stained boards. If you look at the 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 a pallet may have been exposed to other chemicals. You should use caution when using them.
Now you know how to keep your family safe when you find free pallets. HT = heat treated is the best. Go ahead – your pallets are safe – make those planter boxes and get gardening!
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This post was first on December 26th, 2014, and was last updated in July 2020.