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Clearing the Air on Wood Dust
Government declares wood dust a carcinogen; classification impacts MSDS paperwork
Date Posted: 3/1/2003
When you think of all the things that can cause cancer, culprits like cigarettes and plain old genetics come to mind. Most people would never expect wood dust as a probable carcinogen. But according to the latest government report, wood dust inhaled in large amounts may cause some forms of nasal cancer.
Industry experts decry the classification pointing to the U.S. government using out-dated data to justify its claim. The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) looked primarily at data from European studies, much of which dates back 50 to 60 years if not older. Seen as somewhat a procedural move, the classification of wood dust as a "known human carcinogen" has no regulatory impact. But the listing could prompt regulatory agencies to consider limiting exposure.
John Festa, senior scientist for the American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA), said, "The wood dust classification was not totally unexpected." He said that it is not odd for the NTP to follow the lead of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified wood dust as a carcinogen in 1995. The IARC is affiliated with the World Health Organization under the auspices of the United Nations.
Although the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) did nominate wood dust, John said that the industry has received no indication that OSHA intends to implement additional measures to regulate wood dust exposure.
Interestingly, studies done in Europe and the United States produced significantly different outcomes. The results tended to show many more cases of nasal cancer in the European studies. Closer scrutiny of the European studies indicates that excess cancer risk is associated with significantly higher exposure levels, dating primarily from older (pre-1950) European occupational settings, than are prevalent today in the U.S. workplace. The presence of compounds besides wood dust may have contributed to the findings. Dr. William Blot, a leading researcher on carcinogens, wrote, "If the only data available were from North America, in my view its is doubtful that the IARC would have classified wood dust as a known human carcinogen."
Just to prove that science is not always exact. According to John, the actual agent causing cancer in wood dust exposure has yet to be adequately identified.
According to the NTP, listing does not establish that a particular substance presents a risk to persons in their daily lives. The classification should not have a major impact on the forest products industry according to John. It may add a little more paperwork since OSHA requires that all carcinogens be listed on material safety data sheets (MSDS). Notification must be provided to down stream users on the first shipment. Lumber shipped for further processing would have to be accompanied by a MSDS describing wood dust as a known human carcinogen. However, Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA), said that the wood dust classification would not require that shipments of pallets be accompanied by MSDS notification. Companies must keep MSDS information on file and must be accessible to employees. Your occupational safety and health consultant or trade association should be able to help you comply with any changes caused by the NTC classification. Bruce said that the NWPCA would assist members in complying with the new MSDS requirements.
Industry groups, including the NWPCA, have supported a 6-year study at Tulane University that will attempt to determine whether there is a link between wood dust exposure and nasal cancer. The study is following approximately 6,000 workers from 12 facilities. Results are expected in 2004.
How will the wood dust classification impact lumber and pallet companies?
According to the U.S. government, listing does not establish that a particular substance presents a risk to persons in their daily lives. The classification should not have a major impact on the forest products industry according to John Festa of the American Forest & Paper Association. It may add a little more paperwork since OSHA requires that all carcinogens be listed on material safety data sheets (MSDS).
Who can help me comply with the new MSDS requirement?
Your occupational safety and health consultant or trade association should be able to help you comply with any changes caused by the wood dust classification. The following organizations have indicated that they will assist members in complying:
!American Forest & Paper Association
!National Wooden Pallet & Container Association