Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a common woodworking material. Used in everything from furniture to speaker cabinets, MDF is a blend of sawdust and formaldehyde-based resin. The qualities that make MDF rigid and strong are the same qualities that potentially pose health issues. Avoid these risks by taking the proper steps to mitigate the spread of contaminants released from the milling of MDF.
The glue that bonds the individual particulate together forming the MDF sheet is either urea or phenol-based formaldehyde. Recognised as a respiratory irritant, formaldehyde is only allowed in extremely small amounts during the cutting and milling of MDF as of 2011. Additionally, formaldehyde has the designation as a potential carcinogen, raising the importance of lowering exposure to the chemical as it is released into the environment.
MDF dust is extremely fine, causing concern regarding inhalation. The dust released from conventional milling techniques resembles a fine powder. Also recognised as a carcinogen by groups such as the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), this unusually fine dust must be kept at a minimum while working with the material.
MDF's constitution makes residual dust a fire hazard if neglected. Shops that routinely use MDF as a building material must take steps to capture and dispose of the dust properly, preventing piles of it from forming under cutting equipment. Formaldehyde-based resins and the wood particulate itself form a combustible combination. Additionally, the fine nature of the resin-impregnated dust allows easy intrusion into electronics, heating and cooling systems, and tools using open flame or high heat.
Wearing ventilator masks that have the ability to block fine particulate matter is important with repeated exposure to the fiberboard's dust. Additionally, use of a local ventilation system is advisable. These systems draw the particulate matter generated from milling tools away from the work environment, helping draw formaldehyde fumes away from the worker. Low-emission MDF is also available at increased cost if these other measures are impractical.
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