Wood is a beautiful organic product that has a multitude of applications. Whether you’re constructing flooring, siding, decking products, ships, furniture, or arts and crafts, working with wood is a deeply satisfying and potentially lucrative career or hobby. It does, however, come with some risks. Many people are aware of the dangers that loggers face when harvesting timber. Another hazard of woodworking that’s not quite as widely discussed is wood dust toxicity. In this series of articles, we’ll take a closer look at this common yet lesser-known danger of working with wood.
Inhaling Wood Dust May Be Harmful to Your Lungs
Perhaps when you’ve worked with wood you’ve noticed your nose beginning to feel stuffy. You may sneeze, cough, or even have trouble breathing when you’re using a sander or other machinery. The larger particles are what cause these noticeable effects.
The small particles, which are 5 microns or less in size, are what can have a more serious impact. They could cause immediate adverse reactions from the body. You could feel nauseous or dizzy if you inhale wood particles from a species to which your body has an allergy or sensitivity. Even if you’re not allergic and see no sudden impact, these tiny particles may trigger dire future health problems.
These microscopic wood particles are the ones that adhere to the respiratory walls inside your lungs. Once they’re there, they can start to attract other particles from the environment that enter your airways. This buildup of residue in your lungs can lead to major health problems, such as emphysema, allergies, or even lung cancer. The longer you’re inhaling these particles, the worse the long-term impact could be to your overall well being. That’s why it’s imperative for people who work with wood, especially as a career, to take proper precautions.
Tropical Hardwood Species Pose Unique Health Risks
Those who work with tropical hardwoods should be especially careful. That’s because some of these woods tend to put off natural toxins that can be extremely harmful if inhaled. The density of tropical woods causes these hardwood timbers to emit a large amount of very fine dust when they’re harvested, drilled, or cut. These woods also include natural pest and weather resistant properties, which is one reason why they’re so popular. Those same qualities, however, can make the wood particles even more dangerous for humans to inhale in comparison with dust from other wood species lacking these qualities.
Tropical tree species are weather resistant because they contain plenty of natural oils. So not only can the minute particles produced when these trees are cut or drilled be harmful to inhale, but their oil can also cause allergic skin reactions in many people who work with tropical hardwoods. In fact, the more often a woodworker is exposed to these oils, the more likely they are to ultimately develop an allergic reaction. This can be true of both domestic and exotic wood species, however, tropical species often pose a greater risk because of the abundant amount of natural oils they contain.
In our next article, we’ll take a look at some more health risks associated with woodworking. Then we’ll focus on some common sense solutions.