Wood dust is a by-product that is obtained by cutting wood. On the other hand the dust that may collect on wood surfaces may be considered as wood dust too. Wood dust is hazardous and has been a cause of annoyance to carpenters for centuries.
However the important question is that whether wood dust is cancerous or not? Regarding this matter, some detailed case studies had been conducted in the past few years. The conclusion derived from such case studies has termed wood dust as a carcinogenic substance. It can cause several forms of cancer such as lung cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, sinus cavity cancer and many more. The most vulnerable cases of exposure to wood dust and development of nasal cancer are found in people exposed to hard wood dust where no chemical additives are used.
The time span ranging between the first occupational exposure to wood dust and the symptoms of adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity is about 40 years on an average. Toxicity and carcinogenity of wood dust on lab animals has not been profoundly studied. So there are no direct experimental conclusions on the potential hazards of wood dust. Insufficient data’s on the wood dust exposure level in free air and working zones, chemical properties of wood dust and nature of the particles has made the study on wood dust inconclusive.
Adverse Effects of Wood Dust
Wood dust is produced in several ways. Wood chipping, sawing, drilling, turning and sanding gives wood dust. It should be kept in mind that the potential hazard is not the same for all kinds of wood dust. It depends on the type of wood you are working on. Trees with hard wood such as teak, Sal, mahogany and oak generate finer particles which are more dangerous. This kind of trees is mostly linked with nasal cancer. Soft wood trees are less harmful in nature.
Trees such as Douglas fir, European beech, European walnut and European Elm are hard wood tree and are potential threats of nasal cancer. Apart from causing cancer it has also got some other ill-effects. Wood dust can cause breathing problems, dermatitis and eye and nose irritation. Trees such as European Boxwood, European Elm, Blackwood and Blackbean cause irritations of eye and nose.
Alpine Ash, Coolibah and Crown Ash cause dermatitis. Wood dust can also contain chemical or biological substances that further make it dangerous. Moulds and fungi on the bark of tree further contaminate the wood dust. Preservatives are also used in certain cases such as arsenic, chromium and creosote that are very harmful and may cause cancer.
Siena, Italy is famous for furniture industry. A part of the male population is engaged in this industry. Between 1963 and 1981 few people engaged in this industry were reported visiting doctors. Unfortunately they were diagnosed with cancer in the nasal cavity. Information was gathered on the occupational background of these patients. It was found that 90 per cent of the patients were workers in the furniture industry. These workers mainly worked on woods such as oak, chestnut, poplar and fir.
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The average duration of exposure to wood dust was 40 to 50 years. People who were not affected by cancer worked in an environment where exhaust systems were installed. Therefore it is understood very well that wood dust is carcinogenic in nature and is a major cause of cancer all over the world. Other case studies in different parts of the world have shown similar indications that wood dust is potentially cancerous. In most of the cases patients have been exposed to wood dust for 20 to 30 years on an average.
Wood Dust Precautions
Different precautions can be taken by workers while working with wood. Primary precaution should be to use a mask to avoid inhalation of wood dust. An ordinary mask won’t work. White colored masks with elastic strap are not of much use and won’t help much. Separate wood dust masks are available in the market which are a little costly but are very effective. Further it must be kept in mind genuine wood dust masks may not work for people having beard. In such cases the mask doesn’t effectively cover your nose and mouth with possibilities of leaks along the lining of the mask.
Workers should buy masks approved by NIOSH. They are the best ones available in the market. There is another way out to get rid of wood dust. Sucking the wood dust out of a working area is a good option. It is preferable to ventilate out the wood dust before it mixes in the air or else it won’t be of much use. Industrial methods are also useful and very effective. Using air filters in the long run is desirable. But such filters do not trap finer particles of wood dust. Therefore the safest option is to use masks along with air filters.
Other Safety Measures
There are other safety measures available which can be used depending on the instrument a worker is using. Respirators are easily available in the market which can filter wood dusts from the air effectively. They are available with interchangeable filter pads which can be changed when the filter gets jammed with dust particles or wood dust. It saves money in the long term. Air filers are also helpful for this purpose.
They are user-friendly and are generally installed in the ceiling. The other useful device which can save you from wood dust is the air exhaust. It blows out wood dust out of the place where you install it. It ensures that the finer particles of dust which cannot be seen with naked eye are driven out. So it is useful. All the above mentioned devices are efficient but are not 100 percent effective. Use of a dust mask along with any of the above mentioned devices is very good.
A dust collector can also be used in wood shops. It is very useful since it uses large filter bags and can be used for a prolonged time with out changing the filter bag. Also the suction power of dust collectors is very high. So it traps particles in the air very easily. Any of the above mentioned devices should be used to stay away from wood dust.