Why Wood Dust Is Harmful

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Why Wood Dust Is Harmful
October 28, 2016 No comments

PM-10 Particle Size Most woodworkers know that dust is a major nuisance in the shop. But how many realize that excessive exposure to wood dust poses a health risk as well?

Frequent exposure to large amounts of wood dust can lead to sinus and lung problems, or worse. And it's the finer dust particles - those smaller than 10 microns - that are the most hazardous. To put that size in perspective, consider that a human hair is about 100 microns thick, while airborne dust particles smaller than 20 microns are invisible to the naked eye.

Wood dust is known to be a human carcinogen…

On December 11th of 2002, wood dust was added to the federal government's list of compounds known to cause cancer in humans. The report is issued every two years by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

– U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. National Toxicology Program
10th Edition of Biennial Report on Carcinogens. Dec. 2002

How Dust Affects Your Body

Our lungs have a built-in cleaning system that works efficiently under most conditions to protect delicate tissues from the damage fine dust causes. The trouble starts when your respiratory system must deal with large amounts of "respirable dust" (below 10 microns in size). Heavy exposure to this dust can overwhelm the lung's natural defenses and lead to inflammation and swelling of the airways, which cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, increased sputum and coughing, frequent colds, nosebleeds, sinus trouble, or bronchitis.

Also, wood dust may contain allergens and toxins such as pesticides, fungi (molds), and chemicals which can trigger allergic reactions. Many tropical hardwoods can be especially irritating, and Western red cedar can cause allergic asthma.

Wood Dust Toxicity

This includes woods whose dust has been identified as being Toxic as well as what reaction they illicit and their potency.
Source: Robert Woodcock, RN, BSN, CEN
Wood Type Reaction Potency
Bald Cypress Sensitizer Low
Olivewood Irritant/Sensitizer High
Beech Sensitizer/Cancer Causing Medium
Opepe Sensitizer Low
Birch Sensitizer Medium
Padauk Sensitizer Low
Black Locust Irritant High
Pau Ferro Sensitizer Low
Blackwood Sensitizer Medium
Peroba Roas Irritant Medium
Boxwood Sensitizer Medium
Purple Heart Sensitizer Medium
Cashew Sensitizer Low
Quebracho Irritant/Cancer Causing/Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Medium
Cocobolo Irritant/Sensitizer High
Redwood Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia/Cancer Causing Medium
Dahoma Irritant Medium
Rosewoods Irritant/Sensitizer Very High
Ebony Irritant/Sensitizer Medium
Satinwood Irritant High
Elm Irritant Low
Sassafras Sensitizer/Direct Toxin/C Low
Goncalo Alves Sensitizer Medium
Sequoia Irritant Low
Greenheart Sensitizer High
Snakewood Irritant Medium
Hemlock Cancer Causing Unknown
Spruce Sensitizer Low
Iroko Irritant/Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia High
Teak Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Medium
Mahogany Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Low
Walnut, black Sensitizer Medium
Mansonia Irritant/Sensitizer High
Wenge Sensitizer Medium
Maple Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia High
Willow Sensitizer Low
Myrtle Sensitizer Medium
W. Red Cedar Sensitizer High
Oak Sensitizer/Cancer Causing Medium
Yew Irritant/Direct Toxin Very High
Obeche Irritant/Sensitizer High
Zebrawood Sensitizer Medium
Oleander Direct Toxin Very High