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My Friend Had Half His Face Removed Surgically

This is about inhaling wood dust and the effects it can have.   My friend had a history as a tree surgeon, and decided to begin a stump grinding business.  He had been exposed to wood dust for many years before cancer developed.  He lost one eye, half of his jaw, and his nose.

Risk Assessment
You can argue short-term intermittent exposure to wood dust will probably not have such a drastic effect. However the operative word is “probably”— maybe yes, maybe no, but likely not. This is because we all react differently to different exposures and at different levels of exposure. So, it’s a gamble–a throw of the dice. Will you call your number, or crap out. The point is, is it worth the risk while its impossible for you to assess the risk. I don’t know of anyone I have met, who has had a DNA or allergy analysis to assess their vulnerability to abnormal inhalation exposures–little or large. Okay, so you don’t know of anyone in your families ancestral history who has ever contracted cancer. What about asthma, what about impaired lung function, or allergic rhinitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or respiratory irritation and breathing issues. How can you possibly assess the un-assessable risk.

A Problem
There are those of us, like myself, who encounter a dust issue every time I engage with my work. I would be really pushing my luck — bordering on madness — if I wasn’t conscious of some sort of recognition of the risks, with some sort of preventative action. What increases the risks for my line of work is the fact that my stump grinder creates a mixture of fine airborne soil particles, bacteria, and fungal spores living in those soil particles, with wood dust.

So what are the precautions to take when confronted with a dust inhalation issue. My first line of defense is to simply work with my back towards the direction wind is coming from.  There are occasions where I can’t position my stump grinder to operate it with my back to the wind. In those instances I wear a face mask. When grinding away a yew stump I always wear a face mask despite wind direction, owing to its toxicity.

Be Prepared:
If you are working in a closed dusty environment, common sense should dictate the use of a respirator. I use one each time I re-sharpen the stump grinders cutter teeth — out in the open.

So, be warned, and don’t be lazy. Protect yourself.

Mike Lish
Mike Lish
An electro-mechanical technician and specialist in tree stump grinding over the last 18 years.

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