Health: `Danger' fireboard escapes ban

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Experts investigating the health risks of medium-density fibreboard said there was no evidence so far to justify banning the product.

Critics have labelled the versatile wood substitute used by millions of DIY fans the "asbestos of the nineties", claiming it causes cancer, sore throats and damage to the lungs and heart. But at the end of the first stage of a major investigation, the Health and Safety Executive said there was no need for urgent action to take the product off the shelves.

MDF is used throughout the furniture-making industry and by DIY enthusiasts to build wardrobes, cupboards and bookcases. It is made of wood dust and scrap, usually bonded in with formaldehyde - which is already recognised as a carcinogen. When it is cut, it releases dust which is much finer than dust from other materials.

The HSE said as long as regulations were followed the product could be used safely. "Based on current available evidence, it is HSE's view that ... there is no need for a ban on MDF." Although studies had shown although formaldehyde vapour could irritate the eyes, nose and throat, someone cutting MDF was not exposed to levels at which it became hazardous. The regulations say exposure to the dust should be limited by the use of especially sensitive dust masks, dust extraction equipment and cutting material in well ventilated areas or outside. Although only workplaces are legally obliged to follow the regulations, the HSE said DIY enthusiasts would also be well advised to take the same precautions.