Medium Density Fiberboard, MDF, is commonly used in construction and furniture. MDF is made up of pulverised softwood that is held together with urea-formaldehyde resin. MDF is popular because it is cheaper than solid wood. This commonly used product, however, has some health risks, and these risks should be outlined and posted for anyone regularly working with MDF.
Formaldehyde smells very strong, but is a colourless gas. It is a part of the volatile organic compounds chemical family. Inhaling low levels of formaldehyde causes eye and sinus irritation. Throat and mucous membrane irritation also may occur. Skin irritation from handling MDF may lead to dermatitis. Rhinitis can occur from formaldehyde exposure. Lab tests have found that exposure may cause cancer in humans, but only in a small number of people exposed. Typically present in the air, formaldehyde is safe at less than 0.03 parts per million.
Individuals may encounter allergies and other respiratory problems from wood dust. Wood dust's most common result is asthma. Chronic obstructive lung disease can occur from prolonged exposure. Wood dust is a carcinogen. Nasal cancer can also be caused by wood dust as can skin irritation. Dust particles can be trapped in the nasal passages, causing blockages and impairing sinus function.
There are micro-organisms that live and grow on wood. These include fungi and bacteria. Dry spore fungi, such as Aspergillus and Penicillium, cause Extrinsic allergic alveolitis and organic dust toxic syndrome. As the MDF is cut, sanded, routed, lathed or turned, the spores are released. Spores can also cause bronchitis, eye and throat irritation, frequent headaches and nasal problems.
Try a safer material first, and use MDF as a last resort. Use a low emissions MDF board. Work areas and MDF dust should be cleaned quickly to avoid the particles staying in the area. All power tools should have ventilation systems. Workers should wear dust masks to protect their lungs. Individuals working with MDF should wear gloves to avoid skin contact.