Death logs

Workers in the wood industry face higher risk of cancer

Published: Tuesday 15 May 2001

Workers in sawmills and wood-related industry, such as plywood manufacturing, are exposed to carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals. The chemicals may be naturally found or synthesised. Chlorophenols -- which can contain dioxin contaminants, creosotes -- used as wood preservative, formaldehyde, metal salts, such as arsenic, chromium, copper and various pesticides and fungicides are some of the dangerous chemicals that workers come in contact with in the wood industry Environmental Health Perspectives , Vol 109, No 3).

Wood dust is itself very harmful. It is a complex substance whose composition differs considerably according to the species of tree and even geography. Wood dust also carries with it traces of other chemicals like phenols and solvents used in the manufacturing process. These are added to impart hardiness, longer life, resistance to pests, humidity and protect against any kind of deterioration.

Whereas the studies conducted on wood dust are considered inadequate for quantification of carcinogenic risk but wood dust's ability to cause cancer of nasal cavities and paranasal sinuses is known. There also exists inconclusive evidence of a causal role of occupational exposure to wood in cancers of the nasopharynx.

Arsenic, another deadly chemical is also used in the industry. Metabolites of arsenic have been shown to cause and promote cancer in rodents. Two groups of chemicals, Chromated Copper Arsenate and Creosotes are used worldwide for wood preservation. Chromated Copper Arsenate contains arsenic pentoxide, chromium trioxide and cupric oxide. Chromium is known to cause lung tumours and arsenic trioxide is also a proven carcinogen for humans and animals. The creosotes are made up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In a number of studies published over time the development of skin cancer in workers exposed to creosotes has been proven. Studies of the health of workers handling creosotes in different occupations has shown increased incidence of scrotal cancer.

Other chemicals used in furniture building and other wood-based industry that can induce carcinogenecity in animals include formaldehyde-associated with nasopharyngalcancers, polychlorophenols and pentachlorophenol.

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