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Safe to plant in old painted wood garden beds?

 
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Location: San Francisco Bay Area, California USA
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I am fairly new to vegetable gardening and now have a space which has 11 large old wooden garden beds which I am excited to plant into this coming spring.  The strange thing is that whomever built the beds went through the great trouble of sinking them into the ground!  The beds are 12 inches deep (30.5 cm)  but completely buried except for the top 1 - 2 inches of wood sticking out above ground around the perimeters.  I would estimate that the beds are 10 - 15 years old.   The beds are still very sturdy and in good shape, so I would like to continue to use them if I can.  It's difficult to tell what wood the beds were constructed out of as they were painted.  I plan to test the wood to make sure that it's not pressure treated (if they are pressure treated, I will remove the wood completely).

My hesitation is that the interiors of the beds are painted and now the paint is badly peeling.  I assume they were painted 10 - 15 years ago, around the same time that I estimate that they were built.  Since I don't know what kind of paint was used on the beds I plan to test the paint for lead, using an at home test kit.  My question for this community is, IF the test results show that the paint does not have lead in it, would the garden beds be safe to use for a food garden?  I have found conflicting information, some which says that the toxicity of paint is reduced over time.  

If I do keep the existing beds, I am trying to determine if I can go ahead and use them as-is,  or if I need to remove as much of the remaining peeling paint as possible first.  Any work that I do to remove the paint on the beds will be extremely labor intensive as the beds are quite large and they are still half full of soil (which would need to be removed first).  My goal is to make sure that the beds are safe to use, but not pour unnecessary labor into refurbishing them.  I have thought of scraping off the existing loose paint to reduce the amount of paint chips that end up in the soil.  I have also considered going a step further and sanding down the interiors to remove as much remaining paint as possible, but this would be extremely labor intensive.  My last idea was to install plastic liner around the inside to reduce the contact of the paint with the soil.  Though, I don't know that plastic liner would be any healthier and I am trying to keep things as natural as possible.  I would be very grateful for and suggestions/recommendations from this community!
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I personally would not use them at all for anything in contact with the ground or near high traffic areas IF they are lead positive.  If so, I would test the soil for lead.
 
gardener
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Lead paint was banned in 1978(USA). I'm sure thiere was carryover from gallons sitting in garages, but sounds like you have a good 20 year cushion
 
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From what I can tell from the second picture, those 4"*4"posts  that go into the ground are most likely pressure treated. If the boards are in contact with the ground in any way, and you do not see evidence of decomposition, they are likely pressure treated. Unless those are black locust, untreated wood will begin decaying pretty much within a year if it is contact with soil. If they are older than about 20 years, they will likely be the kind that was pressure treated with arsenic. The newer pressure treated is still toxic, but not quite as bad. If they are pressure treated, they probably leach into the soul only if they are the new style that actually rots eventually. I believe some sort of copper compound. I would say that any scraping or standing,even if the paint is latex paint, will inevitably find it's way into your soil. Personally, I would not bother with the hassle of testing, etc. I would remove them entirely.
 
Kimberly Hinds
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Huxley Harter wrote:I personally would not use them at all for anything in contact with the ground or near high traffic areas IF they are lead positive.  If so, I would test the soil for lead.



Absolutely, I was planning to dispose of them safely if the paint contained lead.  I hadn't thought about the need to also test the soil for lead if the paint tested positive.  Of course the lead would likely contaminate the soil.  Thanks for the advice.
 
Kimberly Hinds
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wayne fajkus wrote:Lead paint was banned in 1978(USA). I'm sure thiere was carryover from gallons sitting in garages, but sounds like you have a good 20 year cushion


True, time is probably on my side here!  I am also pretty doubtful that the paint has lead, but considering that I'm using it for a food garden I couldn't get the worry out of my mind!  Now I'm more concerned about the pressure treated wood...
 
Kimberly Hinds
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Gabe Smith wrote:From what I can tell from the second picture, those 4"*4"posts  that go into the ground are most likely pressure treated. If the boards are in contact with the ground in any way, and you do not see evidence of decomposition, they are likely pressure treated. Unless those are black locust, untreated wood will begin decaying pretty much within a year if it is contact with soil. If they are older than about 20 years, they will likely be the kind that was pressure treated with arsenic. The newer pressure treated is still toxic, but not quite as bad. If they are pressure treated, they probably leach into the soul only if they are the new style that actually rots eventually. I believe some sort of copper compound. I would say that any scraping or standing,even if the paint is latex paint, will inevitably find it's way into your soil. Personally, I would not bother with the hassle of testing, etc. I would remove them entirely.



You're right, I'm also now pretty positive that this wood is pressure treated.  Right after I posted this, I looked more closely at the wood and saw all of the regular impression marks where the wood treatment is injected.  I tried to remove my post since I made a decision at that point not to use the wood, but I couldn't figure out how to take down this posting.  Perhaps this conversation will still be helpful to someone in the future.  

I am aware of the higher toxicity of pressure treated wood from a couple of decades ago.  Unfortunately, I don't know the age of the wood that is on our property, but we have dozens of retaining walls just like the one in the picture all over our backyard which is a steep terraced hill.  I hadn't considered the potential of the pressure treated wall posts to leach into the soil, but it's a really good point.  I would not be surprised if the garden beds were put in around the same time as the terraces and therefore using the same wood.  This could have been over or around 20 years ago.  In any case, I've decided I'll definitely remove the planter bed wood and dispose of it safely.  I'm considering filling the holes that are left with some tree trunks and branches we have left from some downed trees to start some hugelkulture beds.  I'm now curious if there's any fungi that could help take care of potential arsenic in the soil.  Funny how one problem leads to so many more questions and exciting things to explore!  Thanks for your response.
 
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