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Wood Dust – Carcinogen or Nuisance?

If you need assistance for wood dust-testing/sampling as discussed in this article call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President

November 9, 2018

There is an increasing controversy over the hazards of wood dust. Originally it was considered more of a nuisance than a hazard. This is changing, for a number of reasons. We are learning more about the allergic reactions of individuals to certain varieties of woods. Also, many uses of woods result in their treatment with a variety of chemicals, some of which can be very toxic such as formaldehyde and arsenic. Finally, woods can carry microorganisms such as mold to which many people are allergic.

Currently OSHA considers wood dust as a Particulates Not Otherwise Regulated (PNOR) with a limit of 15mg/M3 total dust or 5mg/M3 respirable dust – essentially nuisance dust.

At the same time, The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) considers wood dust a “human carcinogen and recommends a limit of 1mg/M3 for hardwoods and 5mg/M3 for softwoods.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers both hardwoods and softwoods as carcinogenic and recommends a limit of 1mg/M3, based on information that wood dust exposure has been associated with nasal and sinus cavity cancer, lung cancers and Hodgkin’s disease.

Allergic respiratory reactions have been associated with certain hardwoods: Western Red Cedar, Cedars of Lebanon, Redwood, Oak and Mahogany. As of 2007, ACGIH recommends a limit of 0.5mg/M3 for Western Red Cedar because of its implications in causing asthma. Dermatitis has been associated with working in wood processing activities such as furniture making, boat building, flooring, and moldings, but this may have a lot to do with chemicals such as preservatives, sealant, stains, varnished, adhesives, and surface coatings.

In manufacturing processes that use glues and surface treatments, exposure to chemicals such as formaldehyde, isocyanates and solvents, further complicates the exposure situation.

As the controversy continues, exposures continue in lumber operations, pulp mills, rough cut lumber, finishing mills, cabinet makers, wood fabrication shops, manufactured home construction, and a variety of other woodworking operations.

As Industrial Hygienists, we recommend evaluation of workplaces where wood processing occurs such as lumber mills, paper mills, fabrication, furniture making, coatings, and finishing carpentry shops not only to determine exposure to the various types of wood dust but also as a basis to determine if respiratory protection is necessary and the proper type of respirators needed.

Our primary service areas for Wood Dust Testing/Sampling are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.

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