With warmer weather on the way for much of the U.S., the time-honored tradition of “spring cleaning” will soon be upon us. This means we’ll have an opportunity to get outdoors once again and assess the damage done by winter. When it comes to outdoor structures such as patios, porches, treehouses and other wooden structures, rot is almost guaranteed. This is an unfortunate fact since so much of the lumber that’s purchased to build outdoor structures – not to mention the frames of our homes – is treated with preservative chemicals to extend their lifespans and give them a fighting chance against deterioration. Todd Shupe, a wood sciences expert who spent years leading a professional lab, has thus learned a few things about what to do with rotting wood that isn’t absolutely environmentally unfriendly.
First, a word on why we’re taking special precautions on safe disposal during our spring cleaning processes. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a heavy metal that will eventually leave the wood rotting in a landfill and seep into the ground. As a former professor at LSU, Todd Shupe says that this is unfortunate and can be minimized by knowing what to do with leftover lumber. According to construction goods store Home Depot, “deck wood” and other hazardous construction materials can be taken to municipal disposal sites to be properly dealt with. This is similar to what we do with motor oil or paint so folks don’t turn to dumping gallons upon gallons of waste down the drain. Another option for those doing construction renovations of decks or tree forts damaged by winter is to call a trash-hauling company that will take away the lumber for a fee. Todd Shupe says that other wood-waste dealers could be consulted, and recycling or reuse is also a possibility.
While with LSU, Todd Shupe oversaw a laboratory that performed tests on wood products and biocides to gain approval and/or registration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Shupe was directly responsible for final reports, internal quality control, working with third-party auditors and more. His data and document control and workflow were crucial for ensuring that smart solutions to new and existing chemically-treated wood were developed. As the holder of a Ph.D. in wood science from LSU, Todd Shupe knows solutions to preservative-treated wood are currently in the works. At the same time, he knows that sending these scraps to landfills only means that the CCA used during pressure-treating – which contains copper, chromim, and arsenic – does not belong in the soil beneath our feet. That’s why he thoroughly encourages readers to find sensible solutions to disposing of hazardous goods after their spring clean-up has wrapped up.
The very fact that readers are looking into proper protocols when it comes to the disposal of treated wood goes to show that more of us have the environment in mind as of late. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), there are local regulations when it comes to the types of wood, which chemicals it was treated with and if your municipality’s trash company will take it away. As the NPIC states, it’s best to both contact your local government to learn about how this wood should be disposed of while making sure to never burn pressure-treated wood, as “the resulting smoke can contain toxic chemicals hazardous to people and the environment.”
The next question that many may be asking is which exact types of wood require this oversight? According to former LSU professor Todd Shupe, whose background in wood sciences includes leading a testing laboratory of four other scientists, it’s the chemicals that make the wood toxic. For example, roadside utility poles are often treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA); the same goes for much of the wood used for residential purposes such as for decks or porches. The breakdown of the CCA chemical combination looks like this: Chromium helps chemicals bind to the wood while copper protects against decay and arsenic wards off termites. According to former LSU professor Todd Shupe, who previously developed a way to remove heavy metals from decommissioned treated wood, there are a number of ways to easily determine if the wood you need to dispose of has been treated with a preservative. These include a stamp or label that clearly states any prior treatment; a presence of green or dark brown colors on unpainted wood; wood that was placed closer to the ground during construction and small surface indentations that were made to make preservative application easier.
The next step after identification is disposal. While burning earns an across-the-board ban, there are regulations surrounding storage after the appropriate group has collected the wood for disposal. According to Todd Shupe, formerly of LSU, these companies can’t store the wood for more than 90 days and it can’t be located near a source of water run-off. To avoid the latter, he suggests that disposal companies stack the wood on a shipping pallet or cover it with a tarp for the period prior to disposal. While the prevalence of treated wood for preservation purposes isn’t likely to dissipate, you’ll be able to deflect damage done to the environment.
“As a young man I was proud of ‘my’ accomplishments,” Todd Shupe recently reflected. I graduated high school and then went on to college and graduated three more times before I had enough. As a professor at LSU, I received large state and federal grants and industry contracts. I obtained 3 U.S. patents and published over 300 peer-reviewed papers. I bought a nice house and we had a nice summer vacation. I was proud of “my” accomplishments for the first 40 years of my life. “It was at this age that I was a pilgrim on the Walk to Emmaus and my eyes were opened to who I was and to Whom I belong,” LSU’s Todd Shupe added. “I still enjoyed my work at LSU, but I began to engage in a much more fulfilling work – helping to build God’s kingdom on earth.
The number 40 has special significance in the Bible. In the Old Testament, when God destroyed the Earth with water, He caused it to rain 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). After Moses killed the Egyptian, he fled to Midian where he spent 40 years in the desert tending flocks (Acts 7:30). Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:18, 25). The Israelites wandered for 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted after fasting for 40 days (Matthew 4:2). There were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). There are other examples, but I don’t think God wants us to dwell on the number 40 or any other subliminal messages that some believe to be in the Bible.
I realize that all of us have been given fruits of the Spirit, says Todd Shupe. I was blessed by the opportunities I was presented with and blessed with the ability to be successful in those opportunities; I now realize that all my blessings are from God. St. Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 1:4-5: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way — with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.” I now realize that anything good I have accomplished has been because of His grace and anything bad that I have done has been because I have lived in the flesh and not in the Spirit. The greatest blessing you can receive is to be a blessing to others, says Todd Shupe, LSU’s former wood sciences professor. Apart from Christ, we are nothing. But through Him, all things are possible, says Todd Shupe. So give credit where credit is due. Your accomplishments and mine are from the generous blessings of God. Be thankful and be blessed.
The popularity of exposed wood as a construction material has seen a recent resurgence for those seeking a rustic appearance at their home or business. However, it almost goes without saying that the “rustic” theme they seek has its roots within log cabins and other primitive structures. That gives us hundreds of years’ worth of wood-based construction practices on the books, with some of the earliest industrial applications including the coating of telephone poles or railroad ties with preservatives. Time would tell that some of the chemicals we were using to extend lifespans weren’t all that good for us nor the environment, but we’ll have more on that later.
Given these concerns, Todd Shupe is encouraged by entities such as “rethink Wood,” which is made up of softwood lumber companies. The consortium is keeping a close eye on durability, fire safety and sustainability when it comes to construction. According to an October 2017 press release from the organization, members are taking the global impact of wood harvesting quite seriously. “It’s important to make advancements in wood buildings because we need more sustainable building materials – and more building systems that can build density in our cities in a sustainable fashion,” architect Joe Mayo said in the press release.
Todd Shupe certainly agrees with the strides toward sustainability. After all, he was a wood science professor with LSU, holds three degrees in the field and was a lab director at the university, as well. During his career, Todd Shupe turned his attention to the chemicals that are used to preserve wood so that’s it’s more resistant to deterioration. The unfortunate endgame of throwing out chemically-treated wood is that it is ending up in landfills and its contents are slowly seeping into the earth. This is different from the field of bio-deterioration, as we’re talking about lumber from demolition that has prematurely ended up in the trash heap. Given that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only in the past decade clamped down on some commonly-used preservation chemicals known to have adverse effects on human health, it’s clear that there’s still progress to be made. This is the topic Todd Shupe is keeping an eye on, as he says it is crucial to find preservatives that are free of arsenic. By using metal-free preservatives when treating lumber for construction projects, we can dispose of it guilt-free at the end of its useful lifespan.
From watering the grass in the front yard to replacing shingles on the roof, the modern home isn’t exactly resource-friendly. It takes a lot of products to keep a home in good condition. Unless you want to deal with deterioration, there are few routes available except to fix the hole in your roof, chipped paint on your walls and floors that are wearing out. Fixing these defects often means going to the local hardware and home goods store and purchasing products that were likely built out of finite resources harvested from the earth.
However, the construction process is one of the few times that new homeowners can have a say on what’s going into their home and how it will affect the environment later on down the line. This aspect is of considerable interest to Todd Shupe, whose background in wood sciences has taught him plenty about the toxic preservatives that go into framing, porches, decks and more. That’s because Todd Shupe, who earned his Ph.D. degree in wood science from LSU, has been actively studying the environmental impacts of preservative-treated wood that ends up in landfills. In this article, Todd Shupe would like to offer a handful of ways that modern consumers can carry out ethical building practices and ensure that they are building the most “green” home possible.
- Reduce, then re-use: Reclaimed lumber is one of the best ways to reduce your impact when it comes to cutting down trees, treating them with chemicals to increase longevity then hauling them to the trash heap one day. Construction experts and Todd Shupe, a former LSU professor and lab director, both say that “reclaimed” wood from demolished buildings is a great way to give a second life to this mass-produced construction material.
- Keeping warm: The typical insulation that’s packed into the walls of a home is made primarily of fiberglass and can cause respiratory problems if you’re handling it too rough. Eco-friendly construction proponents like Todd Shupe say that there are alternatives on the market that will still help you keep warm in the winter. They include wool, bio-based spray foam and repurposed plastics, newspapers and even blue jeans!
- Washed away: The common asphalt-based shingles that are used in the U.S. also contain oils that are washed away over time. Those oils are hardly environmentally-friendly, so it’s important to find a way to protect what’s in your home while employing a renewable resource. Some alternatives to the standard shingle are recycled metal, slate or clay tiles or a “green” roof.
At the crossroads and convenience and conscious is the industry of wood preservatives, which exists to keep our houses, porches, treehouses and decks standing stronger and longer. By treating wood with preservatives, rot, fungi growth and insect infestation are deterred for many year and even decades. On the other hand, Todd Shupe says that these products more often than not end up in a landfill and the chemicals used in the treatment process are left to seep into the earth. It’s a thin line to tread and the topic is gaining more attention as concerns surrounding pollution are given more consideration.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, even chemically-treated wood can rot. In a July 2017 article that explores the topic, it’s revealed that the chemical mixtures applied at the point of manufacturing could have been defective or insufficiently applied. It’s also possible that a misstep during the construction process – like a screw that caused a major crack in the wood of a now-rotting deck – helped to accelerate the rot recently discovered by the owner. The author of the article goes on to note that the unearthing of 15-year-old playset supports revealed termite infestation despite the use of treated wood. These examples go to show that even use of preservative-treated wood won’t guarantee life-long health of any structure.
Todd Shupe, a former LSU professor who earned his Ph.D. in wood science from Louisiana State University, predicts that the majority of the aforementioned wood ended up in the trash and thus, a landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) periodically reviews the preservatives that are often used in the treatment process. Todd Shupe says that the use of metal-free preservatives during the treatment process must be seriously explored if the EPA wants to make a dent on this issue, given the potential hazards and possible human health and environmental impacts. Closed loop recycling of spent treated wood is essential and Shupe has been issued two US Patents in this area.
The Columbus Dispatch article goes on to note a number of other steps taken to deter rot. While more preservative-treated wood could likely be purchased to make repairs, former LSU professor Todd Shupe says prevention is worth a pound of the cure in this case. One of the measures that owners of rotting wood can take is to purchase tape that has a special rubber adhesive designed to seal up screws and keep water out. There are also thin rolls of stainless steel that can be used to cover wood joists and keep water out. The article notes that this product, despite being made of stainless steel, can still be cut with scissors. Also, remedial wood preservatives can be applied in field to extend service life and are widely used for utility poles.
A house can last a lifetime. If another family moves in after you move out, that’s at least 100 years or more of constant use. Regular maintenance should be a concern of any homeowner, but what about the construction process that took place long before you came into the picture? Today, preservative-treated wood is being used as a way to combat deterioration due to wood destroying insects or fungi. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the process of treating fresh-cut logs or lumber with preservatives affects the building material, transportation, agriculture and recreation industries. That’s because such wood is used in fences, building materials, crop containers, lawn furniture and playgrounds.
All preservatives used in the treatment process are periodically evaluated for registration by the EPA and some have been voluntarily withdrawn for residential applications such as chromate copper arsenate (CCA). Therefore, some older and since-banned materials do end up in landfills. In instances such as this where environmental concerns are a factor, wood science expert Todd Shupe can help study the situation and consider the possible effects. Todd Shupe, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in forestry from the University of Illinois; a Master’s Degree in wood science from the University of Illinois; and a Ph.D. in wood science, knows the effect that this process can have on ecosystes and groundwater. At issue today is the environmental impacts of preservative-treated wood, alternatives to landfills and developing metal-free preservatives. According to the EPA, ability to control rot, decay and deter insects are the upshots of preservatives. The considerations the agency must make during registration and evaluation of preservative chemicals include potential hazards and the possible effects on human and environmental health.
For Shupe, who has spent more than two decades advising, educating and assessing, the steps that EPA is taking are crucial when considering the impacts that these treated materials have after disposal. Returning to our original point, there’s a reason why these new homes last a lifetime or two. When they are finally torn down to make way for future progress, the landfill is the most likely destination. With that in mind, Shupe says the continuing monitoring of the preservative treatment process by the EPA is due diligence at its most important.