Cancer from wood dust—know anyone to whom this has happened?

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Forum topic by Sark posted 01-17-2020 02:10 AM 1832 views 1 time favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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244 posts in 1001 days

01-17-2020 02:10 AM

I know and have met a lot woodworkers who have chopped off fingers. Just never met or even heard of someone who developed cancer from breathing wood dust. Have you?

One my customers died of mesothelioma while we were remodeling his kitchen. Yikes was that terrible. That disease is caused by breathing asbestos, and it takes decades to turn into cancer. Turns out his mother worked in an asbestos factory, and brought it home on her clothing, exposing her son to enough of the carcinogen to cause his death 60 years later.

So my next question is, how long does is take to develop lung cancer from breathing wood dust? Not that I want to die that way, but will it take 20 years for the dust I’m breathing today to kill me (assuming that I develop cancer)? Clearly I can’t do anything about the dust I’ve breathed in the past.

38 replies so far

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3811 posts in 3750 days

#1 posted 01-17-2020 02:29 AM

It’s statistical, just like smoking. One has a higher probability of lung cancer from the irritant, be it smoke or sawdust or asbestos. I worked with asbestos insulation in the engine room when I was in the Navy, and with brakes for years (before and after) as a mechanic. I worked in construction and was exposed to fiberglass insulation, which is now considered a carcinogen. To answer the original question, no I don’t know anyone who was diagnosed and died from wood dust. But statistically, a connection has been found by people who follow the epidemiology.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View ArtMann's profile


1467 posts in 1457 days

#2 posted 01-17-2020 03:19 AM

I think the main type of cancer that is attributed to wood dust is nasal cancer. However, that is not the only problem. COPD, which cna be a life threatening breathing problem, has been attributed to breathing excess dust over a long time. In general, I think the risk of either of these diseases is extremely low if you follow a reasonable protection strategy.

View SMP's profile


1800 posts in 546 days

#3 posted 01-17-2020 05:54 AM

I have a neighbor who got nasal cancer a year and half ago. His doctor thinks it may have been wood dust related. However he was doing a lot of work with pressure treated woods. His(my neighbor), thinks it was the chemicals in pressure treated woods. He’s not a woodworker, more of a construction/handyman guy. He came over to warn me about using pressure treated wood. Which i rarely use except for fence post repair etc. But does make me think about dust and chemicals more in general.

View JCamp's profile


1048 posts in 1191 days

#4 posted 01-17-2020 12:13 PM

I’ve never heard of any cancer form normal woods. Like already mentioned I’m sure that the chemicals in treated lumber (most definitely the older stuff) is dangerous to breath. I did finally break down and buy a decent face mask recently with some filters that I’m going to try to start using. Also keep in mind that all this equipment makes a good deal of noise…. I started using hearing protection a few years ago cause I say “what?” and “huh?” a lot more than I use to

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View Redoak49's profile


4432 posts in 2629 days

#5 posted 01-17-2020 12:16 PM

At an older age, I am more worried about things like pneumonia or upper respiratory infections from sawdust. It also irritates the heck out of my sinus. Good dust collection greatly reduced these issues for me.

I recently bought a sensor to measure air quality in eBay and is relatively inexpensive but seems to work. I read about it and using it on the Aussie forum. Maybe not As good as a Dylos but a lot less dollars.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5988 posts in 3134 days

#6 posted 01-17-2020 12:28 PM

Interesting device, redoak…I can see it’s value. It would be neat to see it’s readings compared to a Dylos in the same room. To the OP, I’ve not seen any mention of ling cancer being attributed to saw dust…but I guess that doesn’t mean it can’t (or won’t happen). Suffice it to say I believe that you should try to contain all dust, but I’m probably more concerned about the other affects mentioned in the earlier posts.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View karen89's profile


1 post in 40 days

#7 posted 01-17-2020 12:36 PM

First time i am hearing this cancer.. i think its a very rare disease although we should take face mask to cover up to save from polluted air..

View Jeff's profile


518 posts in 3835 days

#8 posted 01-17-2020 01:01 PM

I think it’s an impossible question to answer if you just describe the cause as wood dust. Wood is a natural product obviously grown all around the world in all kinds of environments. It contains elements from the ground its grown in which can contain all kinds of components. This plus the fact that we as humans engineer wood to contain all kinds of unnatural elements like heavy metals and organic resins, you can’t say that any one piece of wood is a problem unless you know its history.

View Manitario's profile


2805 posts in 3524 days

#9 posted 01-17-2020 02:44 PM

As a physician, I’ve never seen a case of cancer that could be directly attributable to wood dust. That said, I’m sure it happens. I think the bigger risk as a woodworker (and what I worry about for myself and the reason why I’m obsessive about dust control) is COPD.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Redoak49's profile


4432 posts in 2629 days

#10 posted 01-17-2020 03:07 PM

Interesting device, redoak…I can see it s value. It would be neat to see it s readings compared to a Dylos in the same room. To the OP, I ve not seen any mention of ling cancer being attributed to saw dust…but I guess that doesn t mean it can t (or won t happen). Suffice it to say I believe that you should try to contain all dust, but I m probably more concerned about the other affects mentioned in the earlier posts.

- Fred Hargis

There is a thread called “Developments in Dust Sensor Tech” which is in the Dust Extraction sub forum on the Aussie Woodwork Forum. This sub forum is one of the best on dust collection that I have found. This thread has comments about this cheap sensor.

View win38mag's profile


2 posts in 40 days

#11 posted 01-17-2020 03:10 PM

Don’t really know about the cancer aspect related to wood dust , but I do recall from years ago when I was at UMASS Amherst’s Forestry degree program , specifically the Dendrology course . There was a discussion concerning the effects of the Juglans Species. (black walnut, ) and Black locust(Robina pseudoacacia ) , and that both can cause respiratory problems when breathing the dust while sanding. The walnut specifically due to it’s ability while a growing tree to creat an environment around the expanding root system that inhibits new invasive plant roots from growing in the proximity of walnut root systems. That same toxin is in the wood and becomes airborne when sanding , and when inhaled can cause extreme respiratory distress. just saying is all !! Jon Rutka

View JackDuren's profile


780 posts in 1600 days

#12 posted 01-17-2020 03:13 PM

I was trained in 83,84 and 85 by Ronnie Davis at a residential/ commercial cabineg shop. His brother Richard Davis a couple years ago who was a lifetime cabinet shop owner died for I think it was COPD from breathing all the sawdust those years. He was a cabinet maker 50 years.

I got checked out a couple years back and they found a light case of COPD from smoking 35 years . I quit right then. Two years clean…Now I retired and no more sawdust on a full time level….

View CaptainKlutz's profile


2471 posts in 2135 days

#13 posted 01-17-2020 04:38 PM

Back many years ago, I was investigating overseas sourcing of mfg wood components. Upon documenting that practically zero workers in Philippines or Indonesia used dust masks in factory, and only most modern integrated tools had internal dust collection; management forced a dive into the history of wood dust diseases to figure out liability risk. This info may be dated, but will share regardless:

What I found was chronic skin allergies, chronic nasopharyngitis, some reoccurring nasopharyngeal carcinoma cases, and what is now called ‘COPD’ type injuries. Actual cases of lung cancer where rare, and always had other complicating factors.

All of the reported cancer incidents back then showed the victims had well documented background of environmental exposure; either smoking, past exposure to heavy metals/asbestos, or poor air quality in the heavily industrialized cities; which compounded the issue and created early age onset of problems. I also found that the musical instrument industry had highest number of documented cases due exotic wood species, that are known sensitizer’s.

My suggestion: We all die sometime, but if you protect you nose/lungs; you will hopefully extend your expiration date. So use good dust collection at source, and proper personal protection (PPE); so you can stop worrying to get back to working wood.

Be safe, not sorry,

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Wintergreen78's profile


75 posts in 380 days

#14 posted 01-17-2020 05:01 PM

For anyone interested in getting a personal sensor, the air management district for the Los Angeles area has been testing a lot of the low-cost ones against lab reference methods. They report the results so you can get a general idea how effective the sensors are.

It’s been a while since I looked at this, so I don’t recall if they make any recommendations or not.

View Madmark2's profile


852 posts in 1229 days

#15 posted 01-18-2020 03:44 AM

Western red cedar is a known carcinogen.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

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