Toxic Wood

Toxic Wood | Wood Allergies

Can wood be toxic? We describe the adverse effects that wood can have to health

 

Toxic Wood

 

Although wood looks and feels such a beautiful and safe material, it can be harmful to your health, and in extreme situations can actually kill – not just because of accidents with felling trees, or unsafe operation of woodworking machinery, but because of the toxic effects of the wood itself.

This is not a particular bright and cheerful subject but it is worth being aware of some of the hazards of using certain wood species. Please note that the conditions are normally rare and often subject to long term exposure and/or when individuals have a predisposition to such ailments (or who have not adopted preventative practices).

Many suffer no adverse effects of working with wood (even with those identified as potentially hazardous) there are however exceptions to this so we have outlined some of the potential hazards here. Preventative actions and specific health and safety awareness can reduce/illuminate the dangers – therefore; awareness is key to maintaining safe and healthy practice relating to wood and working with it.

Excessive exposure to certain kinds of wood dust can cause ailments including bronchial asthma, rhinitis (a constantly runny nose), alveolitis allergica (hypersensitivity pneumonia), ODTS (organic dust toxic syndrome), bronchitis, allergic dermatitis and conjunctivitis. Nasal cancers are rare, but they can occur, especially to those working a long time in the furniture industry. Cancer of the upper respiratory tract can be cause by many kinds of wood dust, especially Beech and Oak.

Some woods, such as Yew, can act as sensitizers. When first used, there is no reaction, but after repeated exposure that user may become sensitized so that each contact with the wood produces an almost immediate allergic reaction. Often this is irreversible, the only logical outcome being to avoid using that particular wood. Other sensitizers include Beech, Mahogany, Sequoia or Redwood, Willow and Teak. If you are allergic to aspirin, be cautious of Willow and Birch, as they can have a similar effect.

Micro-organisms in bark and fungus can induce bronchial asthma, rhinitis and allergic dermatitis. In North America, Maple bark strippers’ disease is due, apparently, to the mould Cryptostroma corticale that grows between the sapwood and the bark of Maple and Birch trees. This can cause respiratory allergies. Spalted Maple is known to cause respiratory problems.

As stated above - some people are more susceptible than others, and if you are a smoker the risk of illness from inhalation of wood dust is greatly increased.

Subtropical and tropical woods noted for allergic effect include Western Red Cedar, Sequoia or Redwood, Obeche, Cocobolo and Mansonia. Woods from temperate climes tend to produce a less extreme effect; those which should be treated with caution include Larch, Walnut, Oak, Beech, Yew and Pine.

Questions about Wood and its potential dangers

Which woods are toxic? There are number of wood species that are considered to dangerous to health - we list some of these below.

Can you be allergic to wood? Some people can be susceptible to allergies caused by wood. We list the possible allergies and causes and wood species.

Is wood dust a carcinogen? 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. As stated above - this is normally when exposure is for long periods of time and precautions (listed below) are not taken.

Safety Precautions for Working with Wood

All woodworkers should take precautions to minimize the risk of allergic reactions, particularly from wood dust and extractives such as tannin and resins. Some useful guidelines are:

  • work in a well-ventilated area with an adequate dust extraction system (this needs to conform to the Health and Safety regulations of your country/region and will need to regularly tested and maintained)
  • wash and shower frequently
  • was work clothes frequently
  • avoid particularly toxic woods – see our toxic wood table below
  • wear gloves if necessary
  • use a powered respirator helmet, or at least a face mask
  • avoid working unseasoned wood
  • do not use known sensitizing wood for such things are handles
  • be especially cautions with dust from bonded wood products such as plywood and MDF

Woods and their hidden health risk

Which woods are toxic? The chart below is compiled from a variety of reliable resources, shows a wide selection, but by no means all, of the toxic and allergic effects of some wood. It should be used as a guideline only. Woods vary from subspecies to subspecies, and the type of soil a tree grows in can affect its toxicity. There are other woods not shown in the chart which can also be toxic, and dust from any source in quantity is dangerous if breathed in.

Summary

Although we highlighted some of the potential dangers and risks of using and working with wood these are often rare. Unless exposure, to potentially dangerous timbers, is prolonged (and without precautions) then the chances that you will suffer any adverse effects, are unlikely. As highlighted dust is the most common cause of any issues and the appropriate precautions and use of PPE (person protective equipment) should be observed.

We love wood and everything about and would not want this article to, in anyway, put you off this natural, beautiful, versatile material. The majority of the precautions are common sense and of most of the wood, that is commonly available and sourced for human use, is safe.  

CLICK HERE FOR LIST IN PDF

Wood

Botanical name

Adverse reaction

Toxic parts

Balsam fir

Abies balsamea

Sensitizer skin and eyes irritation

Leaves, bark

Mulga

Acacia aneura

Irritation to nose, throat, eyes; headaches, vomiting

Dust

Brigalow

Acacia harpophylla

Dermatitis; irritation to nose, eyes, throat, groin

Bark dust, wood dust

Australian blackwood

Acacia melanoxylon

Dermatitis; asthma, nose and throat irritation; sensitizer

Dust, wood

European maple

Acer campestre

Sensitizer; decrease in lung function

Dust

Bigleaf maple

Acer macrophyllum

Dermatitis, rhinitis, allergic bronchial asthma

Dust

Boxelder

Acer negundo

Dermatitis, rhinitis, allergic bronchial asthma

Dust

Soft maple

Acer rubrum, A. saccharinum

May affect lung function

Dust

Hard maple

Acer saccharium, A. nigrum

May affect lung function

Dust

Yellow buckeye

Aesculus flava

Nuts and twigs contain aescin, a cytotoxin

Nuts, twigs

Afzelia/doussie

Afzelia spp.

Dermatitis, respiratory problems, nose and throat irritation

Dust

Albizia

Albizia (Paraserianthes) falcataria

Irritation to nose, eyes, alimentary tract; dermatitis; nausea

Dust

Kokko

Albizia lebbech

Irritant to eyes, nose and throat

Dust

Red siris

Albizia toona

Dermatitis, nosebleeds, conjunctivitis, giddiness

Dust

Alder

Alnus spp.

Dermatitis, rhinitis, bronchial problems

Dust

Cashew

Anacardium occidentale

Sensitizer; Blisters from sap; dermatitis

Dust, wood, sap

Peroba rosa

Aspidosperma peroba

Skin irritation, headache, nausea, sweating, respiratory problems, fainting, drowsiness, stomach cramps, weakness, blisters

Dust, wood

Goncalo alves

Astronium fraxinifolium

Sensitizer; dermatitis, irritation to skin and eyes

Wood, dust

Gaboon/okoume

Aucoumea klaineana

Irritant to skin and eyes; asthma, coughing

Dust, wood

Tatajuba

Bagassa guianensis

Contact dermatitis, allergic reactions

Dust, wood

Rhodesian teak

Baikiaea plurijuga

Respiratory irritation

No information

Pau marfim

Balfouredendron riedelianum

Dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma

Dust

Pink ivory

Berchemia zeyheri

Bark and fruit are poisonous; sap can cause dermatitis

Fruit, bark, sap

Yellow birch

Betula alleghaniensis

Dermatitis, respiratory problems

Dust

Paper birch

Betula papyrifera

Dermatitis, respiratory problems

Dust

Silver birch

Betula pendula

Sensitizer; dermatitis, respiratory problems

Dust, wood

Rose butternut

Blepharocarya invelucrigera

Dermatitis, conjunctivitis

Dust

Sucupira

Bowdichia spp.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Dust, wood

Muhuhu

Brachylaena hutchinsii

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Satine

Brosimum spp.

Nausea, excessive salivation, thirst

Dust

Snakewood

Brosimum guianense

Thirst, salivation, respiratory tract irritation, nausea

Dust, wood

Cocuswood

Brya ebenus

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Boxwood

Buxus sempervirens

Sensitizer; dermatitis; irritant to eyes, nose and throat

Dust, wood

White cypress pine

Callitris glauca

Dermatitis, swollen eyelids, asthma, nasal irritation, nasal cancer

Dust, wood

Jacareuba

Calophyllum brasiliense

Dermatitis, loss of appetite, possible kidney damage, fainting, insomnia

Dust, wood

Australian silky oak

Cardwellia sublimis

Dermatitis

Dust, green wood

Sweet chestnut

Castanea sativa

Dermatitis

Bark, lichens

Blackbean

Castanospermum australe

Dermatitis, dermatitis; irritation to nose, eyes, throat, armpits, genitals

Dust

South American cedar

Cedrela fissilis

Dermatitis, asthma; nose and throat irritation, skin blistering, inflammation of eyelids, possible nasal cancer

Dust, wood

Cedar of Lebanon

Cedrus libani

Respiratory disorders, rhinigis, chest tightness

Dust

Coachwood

Ceratopetalum apetalum

Dermatitis

Dust

Port Orford cedar

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Dermatitis, irritation to eyes and lungs, violent earache giddiness, stomach cramps. Inhalation of odour from freshly milled wood can cause kidney problems

Dust, extractives

Greenheart

Chlorocardium rodiaei

Splinters go septic; cardiac and intestinal disorders, severe throat irritation; sensitizer

Wood, dust

Ceylon satinwood

Chloroxylon swietenia

Dermatitis, headache, swelling of scrotum, nasal irritation

Dust, wood

Camphor laurel

Cinnamomum camphora

Dermatitis, shortness of breath

Dust

Freijo/cordia

Cordia goeldiana

Possibly a skin sensitizer

Dust, wood

Spottem gum

Corymbia citrodora

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Red bloodwood

Corymbia gummifera

Irritation to eyes and skin, dermatitis, violent headache, giddiness, stomach cramps, asthma, bronchitis

Dust

New Zealand white pine

Dacrycarpus dacryoides

Dermatitis, irritation to nose and throat

Dust

Rimu

Dacrydium cupressinum

Eye and nose irritant

Dust

Rosewood

Dalbergia spp.

Irritation, dermatitis, respiratory problems; sensitizer

Dust, wood

Kingwood

Dalbergia cearensis

Eye and skin irritant

Dust

African blackwood

Dalbergia melanoxylon

Acute dermatitis, conjunctivitis, sneezing, asthma

Dust

Cocobolo

Dalbergia retusa

Sensitizer; irritant to skin, nose and throat; conjunctivitis, nausea, bronchial asthma, wheezing, chest tightness, headache

Dust, wood

Ebony (macassar and Africaan)

Diospyros spp.

Irritant; dermatitis, conjunctivitis, sneezing; possible a skin sensitizer

Dust, wood

Persimmon

Diopsyros virginiana

Possible dermatitis

Heartwood, dust

Ayan/movingui

Distemonanthus benthamianus

Dermatitis

Dust

Jelutong

Dyera costulata

Possible contact allergy

Wood, dust

Miva mahogany

Dysoxylum muelleri

Dermatitis, lung congestion, nose bleeds, inflammation of nose and eyes, loss of appetite, headache

Dust

Gedu nohor

Entandrophragma angolense

Dermatitis

Wood, dust

Sapele

Entandrophragma cylindricum

Skin irritation, sneezing

Dust

Utile

Entandrophragma utile

Skin irritant

Dust, wood

Guanacase

Enteroloium cyclocarpum

Possible mucous membrane irritation, allergies

Dust

Southern blue gum

Eucalyptus spp.

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Tasmanian oak

Eucalyptus delegatensis, E. obliqua, E. regnans

Dermatitis, asthma, sneezing; irritant to eyes, nose and throat

Dust

Blue gum

Eucalyptus globulus

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Yellow gum

Eucalyptus leucoxylon

Irritant to nose and throat

Dust

Jarrah

Eucalyptus marginata

Irritant to eyes, nose and throat

Dust

Grey box

Eucalyptus microcarpa

Irritant to skin, throat and nose, eczema

Dust, wood

Coolibah

Eucalyptus microtheca

Dermatitis

Bark, wood dust

Sydney blue gum

Eucalyptus saligna

Contact dermatitis, nose and throat irritation

Dust, wood

American beech

Fagus grandifolia

Dermatitis, eye irritation, decrease in lung function, rate incidence of nasal cancer

Dust

European beech

Fagus salvatica

Dermatitis, eye irritation, decrease in lung function, rate incidence of nasal cancer

Leaves, bark, dust

Crows' ash

Flindersia australis

Dermatitis

Dust

Queensland maple

Flindersia brayleyana

Dermatitis

Dust, wood

Ash

Fraxinus americana, F. excelsior

Rhinitis, asthma, decrease in lung function

Dust

Japanese ash

Fraxinus mandschurica

Can affect lung function

Dust

Rengas

Gluta spp.

Irritant; dermatitis, blistering, chronic intestinal ulcers

Bark, sap, dust

African boxwood

Gonioma kamassi

Irritation to nose and throat, asthma, fainting, headache, shortness of breath

Dust, extractives

Ramin

Gonystylus macrophyllum

Dermatitis; sharp fibres cause skin irritation; breathing difficulties, coughing, shivering, sweating, tiredness

Bark, splinters

Agba/tola

Gossweilerodendron balsamiferum

Dermatitis

Dust

Lignum vitae

Guaiacum officinale

Dermatitis

Dust

Guarea

Guarea cedrata

Skin and mucous membrane irritation, visual disturbance, nausea, headache, dermatitis, asthma

Dust, extractives

bubnga

Guibourtia demeusei

Dermatitis, possible skin lesions

Dust, extractives

Cooliman tree

Gyrocarpus americanus

Can apparently cause blindness

No information

Bibu

Holigarna arnottiana

Skin blisters from sap, eye irritation

Sap

Courbaril

Hymenaea courbaril

Skin irritant

Dust

Merbau

Intsia bijuga

Dermatitis, rhinitis; irritant dust

Dust

Caroba

Jacaranda caroba

Dermatitis

Dust

Butternut

Juglans cinerea

Irritant to skin and eyes; asthma, coughing

Dust

American walnut

Juglans nigra

Irritant to eyes and skin

Dust, wood

European walnut

Jugland regia

Dermatitis, irritation of nose, eyes and throat, possible nasal cancer

Dust

Virgninian pencil cedar

Juniperus virginiana

Respiratory problems, possible dermatitis

Dust

African mahogany

Khaya ivorensis

Dermatitis rhinitis, respiratory problems, nasal cancer

Dust

Laburnum

Laburnum anagyroides

Seeds highly toxic

Seeds

European larch

Larix decidua

Dermatitis, possible from bark lichens; nettle rash, respiratory irritation

Bark, dust

Western larch

Larix occidentalis

Dermatitis, rhinitis, allergic bronchial asthma

Dust

American sweet gum

Liquidambar styraciflua

Dermatitis, possible skin lesions

Dust

American whitewood

Liriodendron tulipifera

Dermatitis, allergic reactions

Dust

Bollywood

Litsea glutinosa

Skin irritation

Dust

Ekki

Lophira alata

Dermatitis and itching

Dust, wood

African walnut

Lovoa trichilioides

Irritation to mucous membranes and alimentary tract; nasal cancer

Dust

Jacaranda pardo

Machaerium villosum

Contact dermatitis, allergic symptoms

Wood, dust

Osage-orange

Maclura pomifera

Dermatitis

Sap

Red lancewood

Manilkara huberi

Dermatitis

Dust

Mansonia

Mansonia altissima

Splinters go septic; nosebleeds, sneezing, skin irritation, asthma, respiratory problems, headache, nausea, vomiting, cardiac disorders. Bark highly toxic

Dust, wood, bark

Rata

Metrosideros robusta

Irritation to nose and eyes

Dust

Zebrano

Microberlinia brazzavillensis

Sensitizer; irritant to eyes and skin; asthma, breathing difficulties

Dust, wood

Iroko

Milicia excelsa

Dermatitis, furunculosis, asthma, nettle rash, oeadema of eyelids, respiratory problems, sneezing, giddiness

Dust

Wenge

Millettia laurentii

Splinters go septic; irritation of eyes, skin and respiratory system; dermatitis, giddiness, drowsiness, visual problems, stomach cramps; sensitizer

Dust, wood

Abura/bahia

Mitragyna ciliata (Hallea ledermannii)

Vomiting, nausea, giddiness, eye irritation, short splinters hard to remove

Dust, splinters

Opepe

Nauclea diderrichii

Dermatitis, mucous membrane irritation, giddiness, visual disturbance, nosebleeds, blood spitting

Dust, wood

Oleander

Nerium oleander

Cardiac problems, malaise, nausea

Dust, wood, leaves, bark

Tasmanian myrtle

Nothofagus cunninghamii

Irritation to mucous membranes

Dust

Stinkwood

Ocotea bullata

Nasal irritant

Dust

Imbuia

Ocotea (syn. Phoebe) porosa

Irritant to nose, eyes, skin

Dust

Euroepan olive

Olea europaea

Irritant to eyes, skin and respiratory system

Dust

East african olive

Olea hochstetteri

Irritant to eyes, skin, nose and lungs

Dust

Desert ironwood

Olneya tesota

Rhinitis, sneezing

Fine dust

White peroba

Paratecoma peroba

Dermatitis, nasal irritation, asthma; splinters go septic

Dust

Purpleheart

Peltogyne pubescens

Nasal irritation, nausea

Dust, wood

Afrormosia

Pericopsis elata

Skin and eye irritation; splinters go septic; effects on the nervous system; possible rhinitis and asthma

Dust, splinters

Spruce

Picea abies

Respiratory problems, irritation to nose and throat

Dust, wood

Stitka spruce

Picea sitchensis

Respiratory irritation, asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis

Dust

Pine

(various) Pinus spp.

Irritant; decrease in lung function, allergic bronchial asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis

Dust, wood

Dahoma

Piptadeniastrum africanum

Irritant; dermatitis, sneezing, coughing, nose bleeds

Dust, wood

Taun

Pometia pinnata

Dermatitis, rhinitis

Dust

Poplar

(various) Populus spp.

Dermatitis, sneezing, eye irritation, asthma, bronchitis

Dust, wood

Mesquite

Prosopis juliflora

Dermatitis, respiratory irritation

Dust

American cherry

Prunus serotina

Wheezing, giddiness

Dust

Douglas fir

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Dermatitis, nasal cancer, rhinitis, respiratory problems, splinters go septic

Dust, wood

Padauk

Pterocarpus spp.

Dermatitis, itching, nasal irritation, eyelid swelling, vomiting, asthma; sensitizer

Dust, wood

Muninga

Pterocarpus angolensis

Dermatitis, bronchial asthma, nasal irritation

Dust

Amboyna

Pterocarpus indicus

Dermatitis, asthma, nausea

Dust

American white, red oak

Quercos alba, Q. rubra

Asthma, sneezing, irritation to nose and eyes, nasal cancer

Dust

Japanese oak

Quercus mongolica

Dermatitis, sneezing, nasal cancer

Dust

European oak

Quercus robur, Q. petraea

Dermatitis, sneezing, nasal cancer

Dust

Sumac

Rhus spp.

Blisters from bark; dermatitis

Dust, bark

Robinia

Robinia pseudoacacia

Irritant to eyes and skin; nausea, malaise

Dust, leaves, bark

Willow

Salix alba

Sensitizer; allergic reaction similar to aspirin

Dust, wood, leaves, bark

Sassafras

Sassafras officinale

Sensitizer; irritant to skin and respiratory system; possible nasal cancer

Dust, wood, leaves, bark

Needlewood

Schima wallichii

Skin irritation

Bark

Quebrancho

Schinopsis spp.

Dermatitis, respiratory and nasal irritation, nausea, malaise; possible carcinogen

Dust, leaves, bark

Sequoia (redwood)

Sequoia sempervirens

Asthma, wheezing, dermatitis, nasal cancer, hypersensitivity pneumonia; respiratory irritant

Dust

Lauan/meranti

Shorea spp.

Irritation, dermatitis

Dust

White lauan

Shorea contorta

Dermatitis, irritation of nose, eyes, throat

Dust

Tamboti

Spirostachys africana

Irritant to skin and eyes; ; possible blindness

Bark, sap, dust

American mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla

Dermatitis, respiratory problems, giddiness, furunculosis, vomiting

Dust

Turpentine

Syncarpia glomulifera

Irritant to mucous membranes

Dust

Ipe

Tabebuia serratifolia

Yellow dust can cause skin and eye irritation. Possible shortness of breath, headache, visual disturbance

Dust

Bald cypress

Taxodium distichum

Sensitizer; respiratory problems

Dust

Yew

Taxus baccata

Headaches, nausea, fainting, intestinal irritation, visual disturbances, lung congestion, reduction in blood pressure; sensitizer. Highly toxic to humans and cattle

Dust, wood, leaves

Pacific yew

Taxus brevifolia

Highly toxic; irritant; dermatitis

All parts

Teak

Tectona grandis

Dermatitis, conjunctivitis, irritation to nose and throat, swelling of the scrotum, nausea, oversensitivity to light

Dust

Indian laurel

Terminalia alata

Irritant

Dust

Idigbo

Terminalia ivorensis

Skin and respiratory problems; possible irritant

Dust

Afara/liba

Terminalia superba

Splinters go septic; nettle rash, nose an gum bleeding, decrease in lung function

Dust, wood

Western red cedar

Thuja plicata

Asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis, mucous membrane irritation, nosebleeds, stomach pains, nausea, giddiness, disturbance to central nervous system

Dust, wood, leaves, bark

Makore

Tieghemella heckelii

Dermatitis, nose and throat irritation, nosebleeds, stomach pains, nausea, giddiness, disturbance to central nervous system

Dust, wood

Australian red cedar

Toona ciliata

Irritant to nose and throat; dermatitis, violent headache, giddiness, stomach cramps, asthma, bronchitis

Dust

Obeche

Triplochiton scleroxylon

Dermatitis, nettle rash, asthma, lung congestion, sneezing, wheezing

Dust, wood

Western hemlock

Tsuga heterophylla

Dermatitis, rhinitis, eczema, bronchial problems, possible nasal cancer

Dust

Avodire

Turraeanthus africanus

Dermatitis, nosebleeds, respiratory irritation, possible internal bleeding

Dust

American elm

Ulmus americana

Dermatitis; irritant to nose and eyes

Dust

Wych elm

Ulmus glabra

Dermatitis; irritant; nasal cancer

Dust

Dutch elm

Ulmus hollandica

Dermatitis; irritation of nose and throat; nasal cancer

Dust

English elm

Ulmus procera

Dermatitis; irritation of nose, eyes, throat ; nasal cancer

Dust

Rock elm

Ulmus thomasii

Dermatitis; skin irritation

Dust

Myrtle

Umbellularia californica

Sensitizer; respiratory problems

Leaves, bark, dust

West indian satinwood

Zanthoxylum flavum

Dermatitis, giddiness, nausea, lethargy, visual disturbances

Dust

 Source/reference: Wood ID & Use by T. Porter - A really great book for wood reference - CLICK HERE TO BUY

Posted by Paul Hayman on Monday 26 June 2017 at 10:46