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
|Quebracho||Irritant/Cancer Causing/Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia||Medium|
|Redwood||Sensitizer/Hypersensitivity Pneumonia/Cancer Causing||Medium|
|W. Red Cedar||Sensitizer||High|
|Yew||Irritant/Direct Toxin||Very High|
|Oleander||Direct Toxin||Very High|