Health Hazards > Wood Dust - Carcinogens
Exposure to wood dust has long been associated with a variety of adverse health effects, including
dermatitis, allergic respiratory effects, mucosal and nonallergic respiratory effects, and cancer. Contact
with the irritant compounds in wood sap can cause dermatitis and other allergic
reactions. The respiratory effects of wood dust exposure include asthma,
hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and chronic bronchitis.
Both the skin and respiratory system can become sensitized to wood dust. When a worker becomes
sensitized to wood dust, he or she can suffer severe allergic reactions (such as asthma
or dermatitis) after
repeated exposure or exposure to lower concentrations of the dust.
Other common symptoms associated with wood dust exposure include skin and eye irritation; nasal dryness
and obstruction; and prolonged colds.
The OSHA permissible
exposure limit for nuisance dust is 15 mg/m3 , total dust (5 mg/m3 , respirable fraction) 8 hour time weighted average. NIOSH has set a
recommended exposure level of 1 mg/m3 total dust. The ACGIH has recommended a 0.5 mg/m3
Threshold Limit Value for western red cedar based on its asthma
effects. Certain species of hardwood—such as oak, mahogany, beech, walnut,
birch, elm, and ash— have been reported to cause nasal cancer in
This is particularly true when exposures are high.
Wood dust is emitted at high velocity by moving or spinning machine
components. The primary method of controlling wood dust is with
local exhaust ventilation (LEV), which removes dust at or near its
source (Fig. 31a&b). LEV systems can often be integrated with
machine guards. Exhaust hoods should be located as close as possible
to the emission source, either on the woodworking machinery itself
or near to the machine. The local exhaust systems should have an
efficient air cleaning device.
For LEV systems to provide maximum protection,
they should be properly maintained. Check
and clean ducts and dust collectors at regular
intervals. Inspect ducts to ensure that they are not
loose, broken, or damaged. Check the V-belts on
the drive units of belt-driven exhaust fans for
slippage or breakage. Make sure the duct velocity is
maintained at a minimum of 2,500 to 4,000 feet per
minute to effectively remove light, dry saw dust,
heavy wood chips, and green shavings, and to
prevent these from plugging the system.
Fig. 31a Local Exhaust Hood for Table Saws.
Fig. 31b Local Exhaust Hood for Table Saws.
Sanders, shapers, and routers generally produce
the greatest amount of dust. Conventional means
for exhausting these machines are not very effective.
NIOSH has developed new, innovative means
for controlling dust exposure from these machines,
but these methods are not yet commercially available.
These methods either increase the exhaust
volume or velocity, or supply pressurized air to help
blow dust particles from the machine into an
Improved Hood Configuration for Shapers.
- Exhaust the saw through the bottom of the table.
Provide LEV under the blade slot. To decrease
the open area between the table and the lower
hood, attach a strip of flexible material to the
machinery that will cover this area when the
- For increased dust control, add a local exhaust
hood above the top of the saw blade. The hood
should be integrated with the guard on the upper
part of the blade.
- For further information on control of wood dust
from circular and other kinds of table saws,
please consult the NIOSH Hazard Controls
- Provide LEV under the blade slot. To increase
the collection area of the hood, add holes
(1/8 inch in diameter) in the table around the
- To collect wood dust from the saw teeth, place a
suction nozzle above the table, at the rear of the
- Place a hood underneath the machine head.
- Control each head with an open-faced hood,
located on the table behind the head. For additional
protection, use a combination of fixed and
adjustable hoods. A fixed open-faced hood can
be attached to the rear of the table between the
shaper heads. Movable open-faced hoods also
can be used on the table. For further information
please consult the NIOSH Hazard Controls
HC5: Wood Dust from Shapers.
- Place open-faced hoods above the spinning
heads of planers. Each head can be ventilated
separately, or one hood can be used to control
- Place open-faced hoods around the spinning
components of moulders. Each head should be
- For increased dust control, add a small open-faced
hood along the side of the moulder
between the main head and the worker.
- Place an open-faced hood attached to a movable
mechanical arm at the point of operation.
Sanders produce a considerable amount of dust
and are difficult to control. Conventional methods
do not effectively remove dust. New innovative
systems have been developed for controlling dust
emissions from horizontal belt sanders, large-diameter
disc sanders, random orbital hand sanders,
and orbital hand sanders. Although these systems
are not yet commercially available, more information
can be obtained from the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The
following NIOSH Hazard Controls deal with
horizontal belt sanders, large diameter disc sanders,
random orbital hand sanders and orbital hand
sanders respectively: HC4, HC 7, HC 8 and HC 9. Some of these systems are
- Enclose disc sanders with an exhaust hood,
installed below the table; cover the back of the
sanding disc at points above the worktable. A
system has been developed that supplies pressurized
air to the disc inside the hood. The jet of
high speed air blows dust particles out of the
disc air layer so that they can be captured by the
- On random orbital sanders, use an aspirator in
combination with a perforated sanding pad. The
aspirator creates a vacuum that draws wood dust
up through the holes of the sanding pad. An
innovative dust control system has been developed
that uses additional exhaust and a slotted
- A new dust control plenum has been designed for orbital
sanders (Fig. 30a&b). The plenum fits between the sanding pad and
the sander body and has a series of exhaust slots along its edges.
- Enclose horizontal belt sanders with exhaust
hoods covering each end of the belt. These
hoods control the dust carried by the belt. To
further control dust emissions, install an additional
hood above the area where the wood is
processed. To increase the effectiveness of this
system, add a narrow hood and a stripper.
- Place two open-faced hoods behind the heads of
the router table. Connect the hoods to the
exhaust ductwork via a flexible hose.
- Locate an open-faced or slot hood at the rear
end of the router table.
Other Sources of Information on Wood Dust Control
NIOSH has published a series of "Hazard
Controls" concerning wood dust control
techniques. For details see the Additional
References section of this eTool.