For years I included this information spread throughout my other pages. Although it is interesting and helps make some of the nonsense involved in small shop dust collection make sense, spending a huge amount of time showing why so much that many believe to be true is wrong severely sidetracks the delivery of my messages. This information went onto its own page that you can either look over or ignore as you choose.
- The Stakes
Most small shop woodworkers don't realize how big the stakes are when it comes to the hazards of fine wood dust. The 2000 U.S. census shows woodworking is the fourth largest employer, and if home construction is considered then woodworking accounts for over half of the U.S. economy. Paper products should also be included. In short, woodworking and wood products can make or break our economy. The peer reviewed medical research and medical insurance data overwhelmingly show that wood dust exposure causes lots of serious health problems, significantly worsens age related diseases, and reduces our life spans. Similar disclosure on the hazards of asbestos killed that industry. If even a fraction of the same impact hit U.S. wood associated industries the impact could devastate our economy. It is no wonder that private and government efforts to make repair are being done very quietly and carefully. Meanwhile we have a confused mess of often contradictory information.
- Government Confusion
Government organizations now directly contradict each other when it comes to the dangers of wood dust. Solid peer reviewed medical studies that show every exposure to any type of fine airborne dust causes a measurable loss in respiratory capacity, some of this loss becomes permanent and the larger and longer the exposure the greater the damage. Although these losses are generally not noticeable when they occur, over time with repeated exposure they lead to serious health problems, many different diseases, worsen other age related diseases, and often shorten our life spans. Based on these studies and recommendations from medical experts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and European Union organizations set very tough limits on airborne fine dust of any type to protect indoor air quality. Legal and political pressure caused OSHA who oversees U.S. industrial factory worker health and safety to take more than twenty years to come up with their fifty times easier to achieve air quality standard. Before the OSHA standard was even implemented the courts threw the OSHA standard out leaving large woodworking industries with no oversight or air quality requirements except what they choose to implement themselves. Because the peer reviewed medical studies are so strong, most larger facilities choose to maintain at least OSHA air quality standards or the five times tougher ACGIH standards. Frankly, they don't have any choice because if they do not maintain ample air quality they lose in court cases involving injured workers.
- Bogus Studies
To protect themselves from potentially devastating class action law suits, the larger players in the wood products industry have long bought the best quality studies money can buy. Unlike professional studies that must be reviewed by peer experts before publication, these studies often from prestigious universities clearly and very wrongly state other then Western red cedar there are no short or long term dangers from exposure to fine wood dust and that woodworking makes no significant fine dust. These too many bogus studies are widely published and unlike most professional studies are readily available on the Internet.
There are many peer reviewed fine dust studies that show significant dangers from fine dust. There are very few peer reviewed wood dust medical studies, probably because neither the government nor private industry will fund these studies or want them published. The few that do exist show wood dust is one of the worst fine airborne dusts. Not only do many woods contain and carry toxic chemicals, wood dust particle shapes are particularly dangerous. Electron microscope pictures show fine wood dust particles are among the worst fine dusts because fine wood dust particles often have razor sharp edges, points and barbs that damage our cells. These barbs make it very difficult for our bodies to clear these particles. Worse, government studies show that every time we make twenty pounds of sawdust we also make enough fine airborne dust to cause over 15,000 typical two-car garage sized shops to fail an EPA air quality test. So woodworking does not make much fine dust, it instead makes huge amounts of very unhealthy fine dust.
- Information Availability
Access to the information to make an informed decision has mostly vanished. When I started this work in 1999 the various health care insurance companies freely shared their data and summary information as did many universities, standards organizations, professional organizations, and government agencies. Today most find very little of what was shared is still available. What is left is a confusion of second hand information and the little that is available often must be purchased at high costs if you want access. When I asked why insurance companies stopped sharing I only got a run around, so I called a friend who manages one of the larger health care insurance firms. He was blunt. Insurance firms set their rates to provide the needed services and still show a profit. If people are healthier they can lower rates which makes employers who pay the bills happier. They freely shared data that showed all kinds of behaviors that cause long term negative effects on our health and life spans. The data they shared showed wood dust causes many health problems, particularly in our later years. This data gave people the information needed to better protect their health, but it also gave attorneys the information they needed to sue employers successfully. Employers who pay the insurance premiums required the insurance companies stop sharing.
- Vendor Nonsense
The only real oversight on our small shop vendors is what we exercise with our buying decisions. Finding the time to gather the information needed to make informed purchasing decisions is tough and only made more difficult by our vendors. Most small shop woodworkers and hobbyists rely upon the magazines they trust and word of mouth mostly through the Internet forums.
Most do not realize our small shop vendors control these information sources. Our small shop vendors pay not only the advertising to keep the magazines going, these same vendors approve almost all articles before publication. These same small shop vendors also provide most of the support including the salaries for the moderators on most Internet woodworking forums. They even pay forum owners, forum moderators and more established posters to recommend their products. As a result, much of the advice we get is directly from the vendors.
Even this site and I have been heavily influenced by our small shop vendors. After doing reviews of three dust collector and two cyclone tests run by the magazines, I was so frustrated with how poorly those tests were run and how much was left out that I called in lots of favors from my engineer and scientist friends all over the country. We invested heavily in expensive test equipment and passed around the very expensive air quality meter I personally purchased. We then built a very thorough set of tests and tested almost every major brand and size small shop air cleaner, shop vacuum, dust collector and cyclone system. Within two days of putting these test results on my web pages I was hit with two nuisance law suits that demanded I immediately remove this information. My attorney said I had to because I could not afford to fight these vendors in court and even if I could afford that legal fight, the court would require me to pull my whole set of web pages down until the suit was resolved, which with their deep pockets could go ten or more years. Immediately thereafter I found myself bumped from the three largest woodworking forums without a word of explanation. I helped form one of those forums and was pretty pissed, but the owner never even bothered to respond. What he did do was get his picture in a big vendor cyclone ad the following month. Only Wood Magazine, admitted they made a mistake and invited me back and had me help them build their dust collection forum. Frustrated with all that nonsense I then worked for three years with Fine Wood Working magazine to do a much better set of dust collector and cyclone tests. When our testing showed our small shop vendors flagrantly lied on how well their filters worked, the vendor community forced omission of the filter tests for the dust collector article. Soon after, the whole cyclone article was killed by the vendors just before publication because it disclosed too much. It not only shared that almost all of the vendor advertised airflows were bogus, but also all except Clear Vue Cyclones provided no fine dust separation and separated no better than an inexpensive trashcan separator lid. Basically that article said all but the Clear Vue Cyclones should simply be vented outside and all others were such poor separators they were inappropriate to use with fine filters
Most small shop vendors are now between a rock and hard place with respect to their dust collection equipment. These vendors are in an incredibly tough competition to sell equipment so there is little wiggle room in terms of pricing. Prices are mostly set by importers who use third party manufacturers to avoid liability and they bring in downsized copies of older traditional tools including dust collectors and cyclones. This downsized copied dust collection equipment gets sold to us with no warnings that if we use it indoors we violate building and fire marshal codes in almost all areas. These codes require never using cardboard, plastic bins, or plastic bags for collection. These codes exist to protect against fire and explosion risks. These vendors know their customers vent these units use too open filters that harm their customers. They also realize there is enough liability built up that if they admit the problems they could put themselves out of business. So most continue to push the positive traits of what they have to sell while ignoring the negative. As a result, neither small shop dust collectors nor small shop cyclones have evolved much at all since 1994. They still almost all move far too little air, provide little better separation than inexpensive trashcan separator lids, and cause small shops to build such high airborne dust levels that just a few hours in a small shop generates more fine dust exposure than working months full time in larger facilities that vent outside. Our particle counters show the only way to avoid bad dust build up from almost all small shop dust collectors and cyclones is to work with the main door open a little and strong fan blowing outside a back door or window.
When Internet discussions disclosed too many got ill from this high dust exposure most small shop vendors started selling finer filters for our small shop air cleaners, shop vacuums, dust collectors and cyclones. Filters fine enough to protect our health must be huge and are far too expensive and they clog constantly with the high dust loads created by woodworking, so our small shop vendors sell smaller more open filters. These filters freely pass the finest unhealthiest invisible dust while trapping the larger visible particles. This may protect our finishes from getting ruined, but is really bad news for our lungs. These too open filters create a bad false sense of security leaving clean looking shops turning our cyclones and dust collections into dust pumps that rapidly fill our shop air with dangerously unhealthy amounts of fine invisible dust. Worse, so long as this dust does not get wet enough to biologically break down it will linger nearly forever. OSHA air quality testing shows even very clean looking small shops that vent inside almost all build such dangerously high fine invisible dust levels that just walking around without doing any woodworking will stir enough fine dust airborne to fail an EPA air quality test.
Our tool ports, hoods, ducting and dust collection airflows add to this problem. Most tools copy older tool designs. These older tool design come with hoods that do not do a good job blocking, controlling and collecting the fine dust, so they spread fine dust all over. These older tool designs include small ports that cannot support the much larger airflows that the vendors who guarantee customer air quality found we must have to get good fine dust collection. Worse, most end up using ducting sized to fit these undersized ports which is too small to carry the needed airflows for good fine dust collection. Probably most important, is almost all of our dust collectors and cyclones are made to do chip collection which just collects the visible sawdust and chips. OSHA testing shows on average that most small shop dust collectors and cyclones miss collecting at least 15% of the total dust created. To collect the fine dust these units need to move right at three times more air. In short dust collectors sized under 3 hp and cyclones sized under 5 hp do not move enough air for good fine dust collection, and most come with such open filters they freely pass the unhealthiest invisible dust.
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