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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 973-366-4660 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written By:  Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
February 27, 2020

Wood Dust – Carcinogen or Nuisance?

There is increasing controversy over the hazards of wood dust.  Originally wood dust 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 15 mg/M3 total dust or 5 mg/M3 respirable dust – essentially nuisance dust.

Wood Dust Hazards

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

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers both hardwoods and softwoods as carcinogenic and recommends a limit of 1 mg/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 0.5 mg/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, sealants, stains, varnishes, adhesives, and surface coatings.  Of course, these additions and preservatives confound the issues of toxicity from wood products.

In manufacturing processes that use glues and surface treatments, stains, clear coats, 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.

Wood Dust Solutions

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 and furniture restoration not only to determine exposure to the various types but also as a basis to determine if respiratory protection is necessary and the proper type of respirators needed since much more than dust (i.e. chemicals) may also be involved.

For more information contact Atlantic Environmental.

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