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Fire safety tip: Dealing with copper-chrome-arsenate (CCA) burnt timber and ash

CCA-treated timber is commonly used in private and public areas for wooden houses, sheds, pergolas, decking, claddings, posts, gates, fencing and for landscaping purposes. Its use is in fact multipurpose. In Portugal, especially in off-grid communities, wooden houses are common.

What is CCA-treated timber?

Copper-chrome-arsenate (CCA) is a wood preservative used to protect wood from rotting, fungi and insects. Freshly treated CCA-timber can be identified by its yellow/greenish colour, which fades to grey over time. It is not always easy to identify if a structure is CCA-treated timber and if in doubt it is important to treat the timber as if it does contain CCA.


What happens to CCA-treated timber when it is burnt?

In the event of a bushfire, structures made from CCA-treated timber can be damaged or destroyed. When cleaning up, keep in mind:

• the ash contains copper, chromium and arsenic
• the ash may pose a health hazard if it is inhaled or swallowed, especially by children or grazing animals
• it is essential to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and dust masks.


How can ash affect your health?

Although ash is too large to be breathed into the lungs, ash particles can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
Ash can also accidentally be swallowed.
If the ash originates from CCA-treated timber it will contain arsenic.
Swallowing just a few grams of CCA-treated timber ash may be damaging to your health.

Immediate symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, followed by a ‘pins and needles’ feeling in the skin.



What can I do to protect your health?

To avoid unnecessary exposure to ash, practice good hygiene and use personal protection when cleaning up ash from CCA-treated timber.
If you come into contact with ash, wash it off your hands, face and neck as needed.
If ash gets in your eyes, gently wash out your eyes with clean water.
If you or anyone in your family experience symptoms or is suspected to have swallowed ash from CCA-treated timber, seek medical attention immediately.

Children should be kept away from ash until clean up is complete.

Young children are more likely to swallow ash. As a precaution, children, pets and farm animals should be kept away from areas impacted by ash from CCA-treated timber.



Personal protection you should use when collecting ash from CCA-treated timber

• Wear gloves and consider wearing disposable overalls.
• Wear a disposable dust mask (P1 or P2 dust masks are available from hardware stores) to minimise breathing in dust.
• Wear safety glasses to prevent exposure to the eyes.
• Moisten the ash prior to handling it to minimise dust.
• When cleaning up dust do not work in windy conditions.

Use a shovel to pick up ash – do not spread it around or wash it down the drain or sewer.

• Remove and discard disposable overalls and/or wash clothing and clean your shoes before reuse.
• Wash your hands after finishing clean-up work and before eating, smoking, preparing food or contact with young children.


Collection and disposal of CCA-treated timber ash

• Do not bury CCA-treated timber ash or other building waste.
• Small amounts of CCA-treated timber ash can be placed in a sealed plastic bag and disposed of at your local waste facility.
• Contact your local council/municipality for advice on where to dispose larger amounts of CCA-timber ash. Ash must be double bagged and sealed to ensure it’s contained during transport and handling.
• Do not put CCA-timber or ash in your garden organics bin or compost heap.

Note: Contact your local council/municipality (Camara or Freguesia) for advice on specific disposal requirements.







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  • ASMAA - Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association
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