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The Removal of a Highly Toxic Varnish Tree


Extreme safety measures had to be implemented when working on the harmful Chinese Varnish tree

We were recently asked by a client to remove a Chinese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). Although a tree that is rarely encountered it is extremely phototoxic, causing severe dermatitis, and skin loss from contact with any of its parts. Once a person has been affected the reaction can last several months and the individual can be in constant pain. It is possible that once someone has become sensitive to this plant by prior contact, they can even have a severe reaction from simply being near furniture that has been treated with the varnish from the tree, even if the varnish was applied tens of years previously.

Due to the hazards this tree poses, a number of risk assessments were put together including a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) risk assessment and method statement, and relevant control measures were implemented. The work team (as seen in the photo) were provided with specialist Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Due to the control measures put into place, the job was completed safely with no harm coming to any of the work team. This does point out however the importance of correctly identifying trees when planning tree works.

The Removal of a Highly Toxic Varnish Tree