Fortunately, most of these dust types are harmless. But, if you do a lot of woodworking, chances are that one of the types of dust that you are inhaling is wood dust.
And wood dust is not so harmless. Wood dust can carry with it a number of substances that can be detrimental to your lungs.
Woodwork hobbyists are not the only ones at risk from exposure to wood dusk. Anyone who comes into contact with wood dust in a commercial setting is also at risk.
In order to protect yourself from the negative effects of breathing in dust from woodworking and manufacturing, it is important to know what it can do to your lungs, and what measures you can take.
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Your Lungs May Take in Bacteria, Molds or Fungi
Wood dust consists of relatively large particles of dust. The body is able to protect itself from larger dust particles by filtration that happens in the nose and airways. Dust caught in the airways to the lungs is contained and coughed up in mucous that the air passage membranes produce.
While large dust particles cannot enter the lungs themselves, they can irritate the nose and airways.
Besides the risk of irritation that wood dust can bring, it can also contain other elements besides fine particles of wood matter.
Wood dust can carry bacteria, molds, and fungi. These ‘dust’ particles are often small enough to enter deeper into the lungs and cause irritation and infection which can result in lung problems.
You May Inhale Chemicals
Besides carrying bacteria and mold and fungi spores, wood dust often contains chemicals. These chemicals are either naturally occurring compounds found in the wood itself, or added chemicals utilized in the treating process of the wood.
Certain types of woods have been isolated to be particularly harmful if inhaled in dust form. Some of these include:
These are all popular woods that have been associated with a number of lung complaints including decreased lung function, decreased breathing capacity, asthma, Wood-Pulp Worker’s disease, and rhinitis.
Prolonged exposure to these wood dusts, as well as dust containing synthetic chemicals used to treat wood, is, therefore, likely to result in diseases of the lungs.
You May Develop Allergies
If you are breathing in sawdust on a regular basis, there is a chance that your lungs may develop an allergic reaction against the dust. Many of the above woods that we mentioned have a high risk of causing allergies.
A wood dust allergy can be characterized by sneezing, irritation of the nose and lungs and itchy skin. Wood dust allergies can develop into nasal cancer if the allergy is experienced and irritated over long periods of time.
Wood Dust Is Associated with a Heightened Risk of Lung Cancer
One of the most alarming effects of wood dust is that studies have directly associated it with a heightened risk of cancer. Wood dust has been classified as a carcinogen and its carcinogenic effects have been likened to that of smoking.
Wood dust is most commonly associated with cancer of the nasal passages. However, carcinogens are harmful to the whole body and can result in DNA damage.
According to an analysis of the DNA of workers in a wooden furniture plant, wood dust is likely to cause DNA damage in those who inhale it over prolonged periods.
How to Protect Yourself from Breathing in Dust
As we can see, wood dust can cause numerous lung problems – some of which are very serious. So what can be done? Quite a lot actually!
Here are some of the mains ways you can keep yourself safe from wood dust.
Know Your Wood
When working with wood, it is important that you become familiar with each wood that you use and its potential side effects and toxicity levels. Exotic woods, that are more widely available than they ever were, are often a source of high toxicity.
So be sure, whenever you begin working with a new type of wood, to research it thoroughly.
Set up a Dust Filtration System
The next most important and effective thing that you can do to keep yourself and others safe from dust is to set up a dust filtration system.
Using a shop vac, a dust filtration system works to filter out all dust particles by beefing the shop vac up with two extra dust collection stages. These work to ensure even the finest of dust particles are contained. This setup is perfect for a one-man home workshop.
For more information check out our post on everything you need to know about a dust collection system.
Another precaution that you can take when exposed to wood dust is to wear a respirator mask and protective clothing. The respirator mask will provide some protection against the inhalation of dust.
Protective clothing is also important, as this will stop dust from settling on exposed skin and causing irritation and possible allergic reactions.
Clean up Smart
Another best practice to implement when working with wood is to clean up smart. This comprises of two things:
When you are finished working, it is important that you thoroughly clean yourself up before drinking, eating or even smoking. Try to avoid inhaling any dust that has settled on your clothing and aim to have a shower ASAP.
When it comes to cleaning up your workspace you need to be extra careful. Be sure to avoid using compressed air to ‘dust off’ your workspace. This will only send dust particles flying. Instead, use water-based methods such as a damp cloth.
Also, take extra precautions with the disposing of any dust bags.
Breathing in dust from woodwork can have some unpleasant consequences. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize these and lower the amount of dust that you inhale.
Now that you know how to protect yourself from wood dust and its harmful effects you can continue working with wood without putting the health of your lungs at risk.