Planning on redecorating bathroom this weekend? or finally getting round to fitting those new kitchen units? If so, you may be using Medium Density Fibre Board – commonly known as ‘MDF’.
MDF is cheap and versatile, which has made it a material that has been embraced by a huge number of people in DIY epidemic of last few years. This hunger was fuelled by programmes such BBC’s Changing Rooms which incorporated MDF into most of its designs. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Handy Andy demonstrated how flexible material could be cut into just about any shape, and curved into unique contemporary furniture and fittings – often challenging very idea of good taste! So, is MDF perfect DIY material? Or are there hidden dangers?
Recently, there has been considerable publicity about health hazards of using MDF. There have been reports of how dust produced when working with MDF can cause health problems such asthma and even cancer. One trade union stated that ‘MDF is asbestos of nineties’! Alarming stuff, but are there any grounds for concerns?
Recent assessments of risks The Health and Safety has classified MDF as a soft wood and therefore not designated as a carcinogen in UK. However, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) does not distinguish between hardwoods and softwoods, and it groups ‘wood dust’ as ‘carcinogenic to humans’.
Formaldehyde, which is included in bonding resins used in MDF, is also classified by IARC as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. They argue that, even at low levels, inhalation of formaldehyde can cause irritation to eyes, nose, throat and mucous membrane. It can also affect skin, leading to dermatitis, and to respiratory system causing asthma and rhinitis.
MDF in other countries Reports that MDF is banned in USA and Australia are speculative. However, there are tighter restrictions on its production and use. In USA, there are limits on formaldehyde emissions from MDF and home owners in California have to be warned that their new home has been built using MDF which ‘contains a chemical known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive hazards’. Australian workers are warned that formaldehyde is ‘a probable carcinogen’.