What Are the Dangers of Particle Board?

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Consider the dangers of particle board before using it in your next project.
Consider the dangers of particle board before using it in your next project. (Image: Chris Stein/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Particle board is a type of wood product that is made from wood pieces such as saw dust, wood chips and sawmill shavings. A synthetic resin or glue is used to adhere the pieces together to form a solid piece of composite material. Many furniture items, particularly those that are mass-produced and less expensive, are made from particle board as opposed to solid-grain pieces of lumber. Although particle board is environmentally friendly in its use of recycled products, some individuals are concerned about possible health hazards connected to its construction and use.

Construction Dangers

Particle board is appealing to manufacturers as a construction material when strength and appearance are more important than costly materials. It is more dense than conventional wood but is still a weak form of fiberboard. One of the dangers associated with particle board concerns its construction: Because the board is often made of sawdust and wood chips, workers creating particle board or assembling it face potential health hazards from prolonged exposure to sawdust. Some illnesses connected with exposure to wood dust include skin disorders, asthma and a rare form of nasal cancer. These hazards can be mitigated by the use of proper protective equipment such as face masks and dust control equipment like ventilation aides placed near woodworking machines.

Working with Particle Board

Some people are concerned that the resins used to manufacture and hold particle board together may contain formaldehyde. They are concerned about the release of the formaldehyde toxins when particle board is cut or sawed by individuals using it in home construction or school woodworking projects. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that has been directly linked to throat cancer, headaches, allergies and nausea. To mitigate this risk when working with particle board, use a mask with carbon filters and place a ventilation machine with an exhaust fan next to the cutting surface to pull away fumes and dust resulting from the cutting of the particle board. Working in a well-ventilated area to begin with, such as an open, outdoor shop, will further reduce the risk of possible toxic fumes.

Dangers from Daily Use

According to the National Institutes of Health, formaldehyde is a chemical used in the manufacturing of pressed wood products, such as particle board. This formaldehyde is released into the air as gas after the product is constructed with it. This process of gas release is called “outgassing” and occurs mostly in the first two months after construction. However, particle board takes five to 10 years to completely outgas itself of all formaldehyde. By the end of the first year after construction, is has released half of all gasses that it will ever release. To minimize possible dangers caused by exposure to formaldehyde gasses in particle board, let newly purchased particle board products sit in an open space such as a garage for two months before bringing it into your home. After that, the threat is so minimal as to not cause concern.

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