Safety concerns exist for both manufacturing and use. Fine dust and chemicals are released when particleboard is machined (e.g., sawing or routing). Occupational exposure limits exist in many countries recognizing the hazard of wood dusts. Cutting particle board can release formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide in the case of amino resins, and phenol in the case of phenol-formaldehyde resins.
The other safety concern is the slow release of formaldehyde over time. In 1984 concerns about the high indoor levels of formaldehyde in new manufactured homes led the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to set construction standards. Particleboard (PB), medium density fibreboard (MDF), oriented strand board (OSB), and laminated flooring have been major sources of formaldehyde emissions. In response to consumer and woodworker pressure on the industry, PB and MDF became available in “no added formaldehyde” (NAF) versions, but were not common use as of 2015. Many other building materials such as furniture finish, carpeting and caulking give off formaldehyde, as well as urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, which is banned in Canada for installation in a residential closed cavity wall. Formaldehyde is classified by the WHO as a known human carcinogen.
The adhesives used in plywood have become a point of concern. Both urea formaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde are carcinogenic in very high concentrations. As a result, many manufacturers are turning to low formaldehyde-emitting glue systems, denoted by an “E” rating. Plywood produced to “E0” has effectively zero formaldehyde emissions.
Use dust control!