Understand Wood Toxicity & What You Should Do About It

Woodworkers need to take precautions against dust when working with any lumber, whether the wood is domestic or exotic. Wood dust is no good for your lungs or eyes, and some wood dust can also react with your body. Possible reactions include skin rashes, watery eyes, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, or nausea.

The degree and type of reaction depends on an individual’s susceptibility to certain allergies, as well as the concentration of dust and the amount of time exposed to dust.  The same reactions from person to person are not always a certainty.

In general, toxicity is in one of three categories: irritation, sensitization, and poisoning.

Irritation

Skin, respiratory tracts, and mucous membranes get irritated easily by any fine dust because dust absorbs moisture, thereby drying out the surface with which the dust is in contact.  Itchy skin and sneezing are examples of basic irritation thanks to wood dust.  The level of irritation is proportional to the exposure time to, and concentration of, wood dust.
But irritation is not necessarily benign.  Woods like walnut and rosewood emit pleasant odors with low levels of dust, which most woodworkers equate with being one of the benefits of working with woods.  However, the natural substances in these woods that cause the scents are also potentially toxic with greater dosage exposure and concentration.  Long term effects of exposure to wood dust can include developing an allergic reaction to the dust or possibly nasal cancer.

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