Woodworking, Dust, and Lung Damage

Wood dust might not bother you on a daily basis, but it's no joke. Take it seriously. November 28, 2011

I have never smoked and have been at this for 35 years. Admittedly in the early years I was not so concerned about dust and fumes. I've been reasonably careful the last ten years or so - dust collection, masks, ventilation, etc. All I have read so far say's there's no stopping it just slowing it down. What does everyone else do to stay safe?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
I hate to say it but it is likely related to the job. I am also very careful with hearing, eye and respiratory protection but I donít wear the dust mask all the time - who would? I didn't wear hearing protection during my days as a construction worker, skill saws and pneumatic nailers running all day. In the shop I wear hearing protection 60% of the time - always when I am running the saw, router, or edge bander; sometimes if I am running the boring machines or assembly.

I detail this because I definitely have hearing loss and I am only 35. This runs in my family, but then we are all carpenters. I suspect all the loud concerts played a part also, but my non-carpenter friends do not have the problem. I have a hard time hearing people when there is background noise. I can hear that they are talking to me, but not what they are saying. There is a term for this, but I forgot. Does sawdust affect the memory as well?

From contributor I:
Important question! When I once worked in a cabinet shop the owner said make a decision - wear dust protection or do not wear dust protection. I opted not to. I also wonder what that will mean as I age. I no longer work in a shop but I own and operate a sawmill. Milling dead logs can give you a huge dose of dust. Am I damaging my lungs? Both the cabinet and sawmill industries are occupied by independent operators. I have no idea what other operators get exposed to. I would not wish bad lungs on anyone.

From contributor Y:
If you want to do something to help slow or prevent COPD, get rid of any bag filters. The finest dust is the worst for lungs, and bag filters distribute the worst stuff in the worst way. Google pulmonary fibrosis causes.

From contributor G:
Being a Respiratory Therapist, working with patients with copd, asthma, etc, plus those on ventilators, I can answer some concerns in laymanís terms. An injured lung doesn't repair itself as a hand wound would, you have permanent damage. So, those who smoke, have damage, and quitting will stop further damage but what is there stays. Any impairment can be improved with exercise and better living.

Wood dust can be a toxic irritant. I'd say while you do inhale it, it cannot pass through the lungs gas exchange membrane (molecules too big) and into the bloodstream. Any toxins can leach out and be absorbed into the blood, circulate, ultimately going to the liver. As said, dust is an irritant and best to avoid.

A note on hearing. I read "somewhere" that while ear plugs will dampen noise, the ear itself is still being subjected to it. I'm shady here but the exposed ears backside allows noise to still cause damage. Ear muffs are the recommended choice, with or without plugs.

From contributor L:
Wear a dust mask. Itís a cheap insurance policy for you and your family. We have central dust collection bag outside never inside. I still as much as I enforce safety equipment find people who will not wear it unless told to. Perhaps I should send them home for a day or two.

From contributor S:
I'm 32 and have been working in a dusty wood shop for over 16 years. The last six have been with red cedar. Two years ago I was hand sanding large slabs of red cedar and I would feel pretty good all day but was waking up at 2:00 am not being able to breathe. This continued to happen for a week or so until I saw my doctor. It was found that I had become allergic to the chemicals in red cedar dust. Apparently this happens to many people. Now I must use heavy dust collection and a mask. Even the smallest amount of dust will cause an asthma attack. I've had MRI's done and have many small nodules of growth on my lungs apparently from damage due to the dust. Wear a mask and spend money on good dust collection!

From contributor DJ
Iím 32 years in shops and installation, and I just went through the second job that hurt. The first time was two years ago - sapele dust that lay on my sweaty arms for two weeks in the summer and then broke out like poison ivy for a month. This last job had a lot of western red cedar cut and it was planed inside. We thought we had caught flu, but as we took weekends off, and compared symptoms, two guys and I realized it had to be the red cedar dust. It all stopped after that was done. I'm 52, hope it didn't shave off the last good years, if there will be any.