Treated Wood Identification, Testing

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Forum topic by Erythronium posted 03-13-2008 06:16 PM 26305 views 0 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 3751 days

03-13-2008 06:16 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question treated wood identification testing cca penta creosote

Anyone know good web sites, references, contacts to help identify treated lumber, not new lumber which should be labelled, but salvaged wood that may be several decades old? Creosote is fairly obvious, but older CCA (copper chromium arsenic) treated wood is often not (newer looks greenish). Also concerned about “penta” (pentachlorophenol) which has been in use since roughly 1930’s and I don’t know that it can be visually identified in wood. Also “deca”, and other less common treatments.

Anyone know of affordable testing sources to determine presence of treatment chemicals in wood? Are there fairly simple DIY tests (web site describing tests)? Spoke with an MSU (Michigan) wood tech professor, said CCA treated wood will show green flame, but need special flame (green = copper as I recall).

Been all over the web for 2 days, not finding exactly what I’d like. Probably out there, just so vast.

Ran across LumberJocks site looking for web site to identify tree species by wood sample. Thank you for the good reference to the hobbithouse site. Apparently no government agency like USDA has visual wood/lumber identification site, which is surprising.

Immediate concern is tearing down old corn crib (dating about 1950’s-60’s I guess). Like to reuse the wood rather than bury it as most do around here, or burn treated wood, or landfill it. Vertical posts are probably treated and will be reused on farm structures here. If non-treated, some wood will be burned in woodstove. Horizontal planks appear non-treated, but different, like maybe Bald Cypress (??). Being a northerner, haven’t run into it, but understand it was widely used for structures, even to line water wells. If horizontals are unique wood, I’d save for woodworking, structures, or sell.

Long-term concern is that I work with Amish friend to salvage old barn wood. Hand-hewn beams, poles are obviously not treated (other than sometimes white-washed), but we also work on newer structures, or run into newer wood patches on older structures. Most around here in farm country couldn’t care less about burning treated wood, or something unique like old Tamarack (Larch) poles. We try to sort that out, do the right thing, not send out arsenic smoke for everyone to breathe, and not waste uncommon wood types to the woodstoves.

Thank you.

-- Bill, Marlette, Michigan,

3 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3847 days

#1 posted 03-13-2008 06:48 PM

hi Bill,

I don’t know that you need a special flame for this test. You just need a clean flame either gas or alcohol lamp. Here is a site that might help I have never seen this done with treated wood but it does work as a qualitative test for common laboratory chemical and can be used with a wood splint.

Hope it helps.

For wood identificaiton try this site it is pretty useful.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View BANCCA's profile


1 post in 3702 days

#2 posted 05-01-2008 07:52 PM

Methods for Identifying CCA Treated Wood

Bill: I am the publisher of the website BANCCA.ORG ( which is a comprehensive resource site detailing the issues and health hazards associated with CCA treated wood products.

I think I can help with your question about methods for identifying CCA treated wood products in the field.

First, there is no easy visual identification method for CCA wood. Although typically if it is a green and pine lumber, it could be CCA, this is not always the case. And, ACQ wood, which contains no arsenic, is also green, due to its high copper content.

However, there are a couple of methods for identifying CCA treated wood products. These methods were discovered under research that was done by the University of Florida and the University of Miami and a lot of it is published at the site:

I know of two methods that can be used to identify treated wood products. One is an expensive computer-driven device that uses a laser and a gas spectrograph analyzer machine to determine the presence of chromium or arsenic (I dont recall which) in the signature caused by the laser burning a spot on the wood. This method can be employed for large scale applications such as landfills.

The other method is a much more affordable method that anyone can use. It was patented by the University of Miami. It is a orange-colored chemical that you can spray on the wood with a spray bottle that will turn bright red in the presence of chromium, which is always present in CCA wood. The product is called PAN Indicator Stain, and was developed in 2003.

Last time I checked it was available from SPECTRUM (800-772-8786). The part number is P-358 and used to cost $21.90 + shipping. Please be sure to read the MSDS on this chemical – as it has to be handled carefully, as I recall. But, it works well, and I have a small amount on hand and have used it myself to identify CCA wood on my property.

It’s easy to use, too. You find an unpainted portion of the wood and spray it on. (Painted wood can test positive, due to trace metals in some paints, so use it only on unpainted wood.) After spraying, wait 2-3 minutes. If the color changes from orange to red or a darker color – it contains chromium metal and should be disposed of properly (and never burned – which will release the arsenic in the CCA).

Please be aware that arsenic-treated wood products would be classified as hazardous waste if not for an exemption in Federal law that permitted them to be sold to the public. Exposure to the arsenic in arsenic-treated wood products can cause skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, and numerous other diseases, so you are being smart to be cautious about handling old wood, especially if it may be treated wood. Many sick individuals I know personally wish they had NEVER been exposed to CCA. For more on this topic, please visit our website:

Hope this helps. The folks at CCARESEARCH.ORG can answer other questions on the PAN Indicator stain if you have them.

Best regards,

Joe Prager, Publisher

View fredf's profile


495 posts in 3735 days

#3 posted 05-09-2008 04:32 AM

might want to post on home refurbers and even garden tenders—very important topic

-- Fred, Springfield, Ma

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