Amber from Albany, Western Australia, Australia asked:

Can wood dust cause cancer?

Wood chip dust and cancer

Is it true that breathing in wood dust causes cancer?

The source:
Our answer

The exact makeup of wood varies according to the type of wood, for example hardwood, softwood or chipboard, but is a complex mixture of natural chemicals, often contaminated with industrial chemicals such as glues, solvents and paints. There have been numerous studies of people who work with wood, such as joiners, cabinet makers, carpenters and sawmill employees, to explore a link between inhaling wood dust and cancer. These studies have gathered information from people who have been exposed to wood dust daily in their workplace compared to those who have not been exposed at work. Overall the results have found a strong association, however it’s worth noting that many factors other than the dust itself can affect the results (for example the number of participants in the study who smoke may not have been taken into account). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has carefully reviewed all of the scientific studies in humans and animals until 2010 and determined that, overall, the results show that wood dust can cause cancer in humans – in particular, cancer of the nasal cavity, sinuses and the upper throat. However, as these cancers are very rare, the actual risk to any individual is small. Research has shown no increased risk for those working with wood as a hobby. It’s also worth noting that many of the occupational studies have been on people who worked in environments, countries or at a time when occupational health and safety rules were not as strict as those in Australia today. Exposure to wood dust should be minimised, primarily by using extraction systems and keeping dust down. Most modern wood working power tools and machines should be fitted with one or more local exhaust ventilation hoods or outlets to capture dust. Personal protection equipment may also be used but needs to be high quality and professionally fitted. We recommend employers and employees comply with regulations and reduce wood dust exposure wherever possible.

This page was last updated on: October 18, 2012

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