Are Pallets Unpalletable As A Building Material? (Survey)

Viridian Wood Products/Public Domain

Next to shipping containers, pallets are just about the most popular recycled building material on TreeHugger. But seeing Viridian's new recycled pallet floors on Jetson Green reminded me of a question that has been bouncing around the design sites recently: Are they safe?

Last month the Design Maven at Curbly wrote about a "total buzz kill" post by a cabinet maker named Nick in Sylacauga, Alabama, who wrote:

Wood shipping pallets often start out in a fairly sanitary state. Unfortunately, most find some part of their life out of doors exposed to water, all manner of vermin and insects, not to mention bird droppings and other nastiness.

Remember when E. coli was running rampant through the romaine lettuce community last year? The National Consumers League(NCL) did some testing on shipping pallets... They found that 10% of the pallets tested contained E. coli. Almost 3% contained Listeria, one of the more virulent of food borne pathogens that has a 20-30% mortality rate.

On to another recall... In 2009, Tylenol recalled all EZ-open 100-count Arthritis Pain Medication after it was discovered that a chemical called 2,4,6-tribomophenol(a fungicide) caused a bizarre, unpleasant odor in its medication. Who did Tylenol blame? Pallets.

The very same type of chemical is also blamed for $10 billion in damages from what wine producers call "cork taint".

Again, not something I want in my house.

© Lori Danelle

When Nick wrote his post, he illustrated it with a few images from Inhabitots, including a child's bed made by Lori Danelle. Interestingly, Lori addresses the issue of pallet safety in another post:

If a pallet is made of wood, there's concern that it may harbor bugs. In order to prevent this, pallets are either treated with chemicals or heat treated.... Both of these methods get the job done and are indicate on the side of the pallet with the IPPC logo. Chemical treated pallets would have "MB" stamped on it, while heat treated pallets are stamped with "HT"

(see image of heat treated stamp on pallet here)

Lori suggests that heat treated pallets are probably safe to use, and also notes that if this still makes you nervous, you can buy new heat treated ones or even build them yourself from new wood. (Re-Nest weighed in on the subject here)

Perhaps Nick has a point about keeping away from pallets that look like they have been around the world a couple of times, or those that were used for food, or even chemically treated pallets. But I think it is a mistake to ignore such a cheap and ubiquitous source. What do you think?


More on Pallet furniture and architecture:
Pallets For People: A Cheap and Ubiquitous Building Material (Roundup)
Recycled Pallets are the New Architecture
Recycling Pallets into Art and Architecture

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