I just read Larry’s blog “Dust”, posted on November 14th. It reminded me of this article I placed in my woodworking club’s newsletter.
This article first appeared in the 1988 woodworking magazine, Chit Chats and was written by Tom Frazer.” Although perhaps an extreme case, it is a reminder of the hazards of inhaling wood dust.
I encourage members to wear dust protection equipment when woodworking.
“As I type these words, my breathing is being assisted by pure oxygen conducted by a plastic tube from a portable unit at the rate of three litres a minute. The oxygen is necessary 24 hours a day to help me breathe, because I suffer from a lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). In my case, the disease will be fatal. My only hope is a single-lung transplant.
Idiopathic means “of unknown origin” and so far, physicians have been unable to determine conclusively what triggered the disease, which causes progressive scarring of lung tissue. Scar tissue cannot absorb oxygen that is vital to life. As the disease progresses, my breath becomes shorter and shorter.
Although what triggered this disease has not been determined conclusively, the physician managing my case said he is “morally certain” that wood dust – perhaps that of spalted wood – is the culprit. Perhaps he believes this if for no other reason than I have been exposed to wood dust for a number of years as an amateur woodworker. As a newspaper reporter for the past 20 years, I have not been exposed to significant amounts of other lung irritants such as chemical fumes. What about smoking? I smoked cigarettes for about 15 years before kicking the habit some seven years ago. Yet IPF is not a “smoker’s disease”. My physician said that smoking may have been a contributing factor – I might not have contracted the disease if I had never smoked – but that smoking itself was not the cause fo the disease.
Although I have had a life-long interest in wood and woodworking, it was not until about eight or nine years ago, after my wife and I bought a house in the suburbs of
New Orleans, that I was able to set up a woodworking shop in a one car garage. As if making up for lost time, I soon filled my shop with every power tool I could get my hands on. Mostly a weekend woodworker, I felt I had little to fear from wood dust. I spent relatively short periods of time in the shop. I wore a filter paper mask, attached by a rubber band, only when I knew I would be making billowing clouds of wood dust with a belt or disc sander. Otherwise, I was not particularly worried about wood dust and did not wear a face mask. I realise now that I should have been more aware of the dangers that wood dust can pose. And, I should have taken specific steps to protect myself. But at the time, I felt that a dust extractor system was clearly too expensive, and was more appropriate for professional woodworkers.
Although sawdust from different woods varies in the way it affects woodworkers, I have become very suspicious of using spalted wood. Spalting is a phenomenon that occurs naturally in a number of woods. It is caused by a fungi eating downed timber, and for practical purposes, amounts to the decaying process. Yet, many woodworkers have discovered that this seemingly worthless, rotting wood produces remarkable figure patterns and colors.
After reading a magazine article several years ago, I became aware of the possibilities of spalted wood. My first “find” was a couple of lower trunk sections left by a curb by a city crew which had cut down and removed a huge Elm. The wood was magnificent. A design network of inky black lines sharply divided cream colored portions from dark brown portions. My spalted Elm would be just the material for turning bowls or crafting a small box. As I sawed, turned and sanded the spalted Elm, I not only produced my usual cloud of wood dist, but also unwittingly released into the atmosphere zillions of live fungi which had been happily eating away at the Elm. At this point I suspect the fungi that I subsequently inhaled began to irritate
my lung tissues. In response, my natural immune system launched a counterattack against the foreign invaders.
The serious problem began when my immune system went out of control and failed to shut down. The ceaseless struggle led to inflammation of the lung tissues and unchecked inflammation led to irreversible scarring. As a layman, I am guessing that my lung disease is the reverse of the process that takes place with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Instead of refusing to fight, as in the case of AIDS, my immune system’s cell army is battling with such enthusiasm that it refuses to stop.
I have zeroed in on spalted wood as a likely cause of my lung disease, but it is possible that dust from healthy wood of various species also caused the initial lung irritation. IPF is and insidious illness. It affects the lungs so gradually that the body is able to compensate for the shortness of breath subtly. So subtly, that one is unaware anything is amiss. I was jogging as much as three miles a day after I contracted the disease. The two symptoms that eventually send one to the doctor are shortness of breath and a non productive cough. But in my case, shortness of breath developed too gradually for me to notice. After all, I was jogging. I had developed a mild cough a couple of years before a chest X-ray revealed the IPF. But circumstances conspired to make me believe it was not significant. So I went on my merry way, working in my shop whenever possible. My only hope is for a successful single lung transplant.”
The editorial note stated, “Amateur woodworker Tom Frazer, 48, died in September 1987 from a chronic lung disease that he had been battling for some time.”
-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!" http://www.dpb-photos.com/