IAQ Can be Affected by VOCs From Wood Finishing Products

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Are Santa’s Elves at Risk?

In the fairytale workshop of holiday toys, Santa’s bustling elves are depicted crafting, assembling and painting items of Christmas splendor. In this imaginary world, nary a thing could go wrong.

But in the real world of woodworking, significant – even deadly – health risks exist everyday as a result of the fumes generated from wood finishing products. (1)

Though non-toxic water-borne stains, coatings and solvents do exist, the majority of woodworkers prefer to use traditional products due to their ease, reliability and cost-effectiveness. (2)

The process of wood finishing (2) is laborious but straightforward. Once the wood is stripped of any paints or varnishes and sanded bare, a pigment or stain is applied. Once dried, the item is sanded again prior to sealer or topcoat application. There are variances in the process depending on the manufactured item, the type of wood used and the paints and finishes being employed. But one thing is the same no matter the variables: the health risks from VOCs.

Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs, are organic chemicals that can turn into gasses at average room temperatures. These chemicals are both man-made and naturally occurring. Some provide pleasant odors (think: flowers, coffee); others can emit dangerous toxic fumes such as methylene chloride. (3)

Methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane, is a wonder product in the woodworking industry. It softens old paints and varnishes quickly, allowing a worker to efficiently strip lumber. But it its fumes can become deadly if they accumulate and are inhaled. OSHA has listed methylene chloride as an occupational carcinogen (3) and the EPA has documented case studies proving that methylene chloride vapors have proven fatal, even to workers who have worn respiratory protection. (4)

So how does one in the woodworking industry avoid risk? The obvious answer would be to eliminate the use of harmful toxic chemicals. But for many professionals, that is neither practical nor affordable. So if businesses in the woodworking, finishing and furniture manufacturing sectors choose to continue to use products that contain toxic VOCs, employers will need to manage, mitigate and control their usage.

Proper protective clothing is a must, of course. As is installing adequate ventilation systems. But the final, and arguably most important action is source capture. Fumes must be eliminated before they can be inhaled. At Air Systems Inc, we have highly specialized source capture products. Contact us today for a free consultation and estimate with one of our highly trained experts.