Tar very much, EU!

An old Finnish saying has it that if sauna, tar and liquor donít help, the illness is fatal. In a land of vast forests, the reference is naturally to pine tar, which has been used in Finland of old to protect wood against rot fungus. Understandably the Finns have not taken kindly to the European Unions plans to ban all use of tar. In fact, it is seen as a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Coal and mineral oil tars are indeed dangerous, but pine tar is not poisonous and has moreover a pleasant smell that evokes in many Finns memories of life in the lap of nature.

By Finnish lights the EU saw the light last year in extending the permission to use pine tar in specified applications until 2010. The fixed-term permission covers the use of pine tar in the protection of historical building and traditional wooden boats. Finland is working for a permanent licence for the use of pine tar in these applications.

Pine tar was an important source of wealth in Finland in the era of wooden boats and buildings. It was exported extensively and fortunes were made out of tar trade in many costal towns. Pine tar remains irreplaceable in such historically valuable applications as the preservation of wood-shingle church roofs.

To test the traditional claim about the healing powers of the holy trinity of sauna, tar and liquor, we recommend you buy a bottle of tar-flavoured vodka, some tar-flavoured cough lozenges and head for nearest sauna.

BY RISTO PITKÄNEN
ILLUSTRATION BY FLEUR WILSON