Safety tips for reusing wooden pallets

Use only clean pallets that haven’t been spilled on.
Use only clean pallets that haven’t been spilled on. Special to The Star

Q: Our family is having a debate over the use of wooden pallets for projects around the house. I say they are not safe because you do not know what has been shipped on them. Working in retail for more than 40 years, I have seen fertilizer, garden chemicals, paint thinners, etc., shipped on pallets. Do I have a legitimate concern?

A: You most certainly do. The site www.1001pallets.com offers, well, 1,001 ways to recycle, upcycle, reuse and repurpose wooden pallets. After all, an estimated 2 billion are used every day, not counting those just lying around. But despite its help-save-the-environment philosophy, the site urges caution because you may find some (pardon the pun) unpalletable for use around your home.

“The first issue is to be careful of what has been spilled on the pallet!” the site warns. “If there are any spills on it, either oil, food or unknown substances, do not use this pallet. It is well known that pallets are used to transport all sorts of nasty products and liquids. It is much safer to use only clean ones and not try to identify what might be on your pallet.”

But that’s only one worry. How the pallets were made is another, the site cautions. The wood in pallets shipped internationally, for example, must be treated to prevent the spread of invasive insects and plant diseases from one country to another.

Some are treated with heat, but some still may be coated with a nasty pesticide, methyl bromide. These pallets must be marked with a logo that tells how they were treated. If you see HT (heat-treated), DB (debarked) or KD (kiln-dried), they’re safe to use if otherwise clean. If you see MB (Methyl Bromide), steer clear.

If there are no markings, you’re on your own. These are “national pallets” that are used within one country.

“Most of them are not treated with chemicals, so they may be entirely safe,” the website says. “But you still have to be careful. I know people who use these pallets safely, but it is better if you can trace where they come from.”

I don’t mean to put the fear of God into you, but better safe than sorry probably should be your watchwords.