Reader Question: Is MDF dangerous?

Hi Dr chemical
My name is Cliff I am 52 years old and have been a cabinet maker
since I was 16 years old, I have been working with MDF (medium density
fiberboard ) since 1984, over that time I have heard many rumors about MDF
being a carcinogen and that it is banned in various parts of the world,
whenever I work with a lot of it , especially the dust, I feel very I’ll , I
can feel it sucking the moisture out of my skin, and I get cold sores on my
lips, what do you know about MDF and how harmful it is?
Many thanks Cliff Mulroy.

Good question.

When thinking about chemical safety its important to understand that there is no connection whatever between whether a chemical is harmful and whether it is an irritant or has a strong smell.  For example, smelling salts has an extremely strong smell but is completely harmless.  Cyanide gas, on the other hand, has a very pleasant almond fragrance.

So the fact that it dries your lips and so on doesn’t mean much in terms of toxicity.

But it is indeed true that there are potential health concerns with MDF.  The reason is the formaldehyde resin that is used to bind it together.

Formaldehyde has long been suspected as being a carcinogen and is slowly being phased out of most products.

Having said that, however, it is at the less dangerous end of suspected carcinogens, and is certainly nowhere near as nasty as some of the chlorinated solvents that have now essentially disappeared from the market.

But of course it is very easy to find all sorts of outlandish claims, with some even saying it is the new asbestos.

This of course is nonsense.  Worst case scenario is that it is suspected of being mildly carcinogenic – just like lots of other things, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

Having said that, however, it’s probably a good idea to use it in a well ventilated area.


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