British Lung Foundation
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I started working in a school as a DT technician 5 years ago. It was like walking onto a skip and a shrine to MDF. I have never in 35 years of working in industry used MDF. The entire place and the machinery was covered with MDF dust. All of the machinery was attached to inadequate extractor units and in some cases to Henry type vacuum cleaners that were full to bursting. Health and safety did not exist and the H&S file had one piece of paper in it referring to the use of a pillar drill. The classrooms and the prep room were a total disgrace. Naturally I spent the first few weeks simply cleaning the place. I eventually found some paper masks crushed in the bottom of a box and covered in the usual dust. Eventually the place began to look a bit better but very little attention was paid by the school as to H&S issues within the workshops, in fact the schools H&S officer removed an extractor fan in my prep room as it was considered to be in a dangerous place. 18 months later I never saw the fan replaced as I was diagnosed with an interstitial lung disease and retired on ill health grounds.

This has given me time to look at the issues related to MDF and lung disease. It has also given the school time to replace the fan and upgrade all extractors whilst instructing the cleaners to use vacuum cleaners instead of brooms and brushes.

My investigations into interstitial lung disease and the inhalation of MDF dust often mentions that it is an irritant, very hazardous and referring to MDF as the "new asbestos". I guess that this is why manufactures make what called "Safe" MDF, i.e. without urea formaldehyde. This is why the USA has banned the use and manufacture of the unsafe stuff. Australia are considering doing the same.

Yet with all of the above that seems clear I still have unanswered questions.

Why did the school use MDF when another school in the same area consider it

as "Poisonous".

Every medial professional I have met has asked the same question "do you work in a dusty atmosphere" yet they cannot/will not confirm that my condition is as a result of my poor working conditions.

Why did the school replace the extractor fan and upgrade everything after my diagnosis.

When I ordered masks why were they considered to be an unnecessary expense on an already tight budget.

Why is MDF still used in secondary and primary schools without the proper precautions in place.

Why is MDF sold without warnings.

Why do my solicitors only act upon the conclusions of my medical report, when throughout the world sections of both professions and H&S groups refer to it as "the new asbestos".

If anyone has any help or guidance I will be very grateful as I am finding this situation very debilitating indeed. I would, so dearly, love to play with my little grand daughter but I just can't breathe. I therefore need answers.

12 Replies

Hi Harmonica,

I think you would have a case against the school, as it has been known that MDF, has been a health hazard for many moons, therefore, though we are all responsible for our own Health&safety - the school should bear the brunt of the h&s of had the correct extractors, dust monitoring, risk assessments etc, if wasnt in place, ask a solicitor to check with the school. if this was in place at the start of your employment

Take care


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I agree with Muckster -you have a case so talk to a solicitor.

I have Mesothelioma and yes they do report that MDF is the next health scare.

80% of schools have asbestos in the ceiling or walls or around pipes

Dont let the same happen with MDF talk to AIS they will advise you

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Just a thought --are you in a Union Member? if so contact as they will take the case forward if possible.


Hello Mavisnye.

Thank you for your response. I have been down the union root for a year or so. All rather complicated and frustrating at present but working at it. Please see my reply to JoNewton

However, basically I believe that the whole issue of MDF and it's potential health risks should be exposed before it reaches the levels achieved by asbestos.

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Hi Harmonica

I have found some information from the Health and Safey Executive re MDF - the link can be found below:

As always please call if we can help - 03000 030 555.

Best Wishes



Thank you Jo for your response and the information given. Much appreciated.

Funny thing I have just returned from my solicitor and although he totally agrees with me that my exposure to MDF dust was far too extreme and is as a result of severe negligence by the school and local authority. Yet to pursue a claim in a court of law would be futile because my medical reports do not state that my condition is as a direct result of such exposure. They mainly refer to my condition as an auto immune system problem.

The medical profession and legal system also fail to recognise the link between MDF and Lung diseases because there are not a sufficient number of cases reported ----- YET, i.e.Basically it does not have a name.

I do find it strange that the article you kindly sent does identify serious problems with MDF and concludes that special measures should be in place to prevent the inhalation of the such toxins, yet when such guidelines are ignored the issue is swept under the carpet.

Sorry to be so blunt but I guess that you understand my complete frustration in watching and waiting for an accident to happen.

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Is shocking .. but its just what thay do to asbestos suffers Curantly iidb will not recognise my other medical conditons thus far thay have said pneumonacosis as nothing to do with asbestos cement dust or fibers and even find it easy to blame food industry apartly in our food according to iidb we are eating asbestos cement and fibers YUMI even said even if i prove it thay are still going to put it down to old age lung disease.

If you was a teacher or member of profesionol classes things would of been much different


They said the same about Asbestos in the early days -they are probably worried about the compensation they will have to start paying if MDF is proven to be the same

Why dont you get a local paper involved or ask BLF what they know about MDF

Reply seems to me they do know


Thank you so much mavisnye.

It is so good to know that there are professional opinions out there that basically indicate that there are serious issues with MDF that need to be addressed.

It is also brilliant to know that there are people like your good self who can offer kind support.

Thank you.


Your welcome and I hope you do carry on and contact AIS they are two brothers 1 lost his wife to Mesothelioma and they know all the dangers in schools and Im sure they will help you good luck



Firstly I am truly Sorry for your health condition and for the ignorance of others that get paid well to supposedly serve the people.

I have just worked in a school in Adelaide South Australia as a school support officer, I am an have an engineering background with Cert IV s Diplomas etc. Students and myself have been instructed by a wise Tech teacher to use an electric hand router to cut slots through MDF. I questioned this practice without the use of PPE and I was shut down. I reported it to my line manager and three weeks later I was still watching and cutting MDF without a face mask. I then approached the WHS officer and she quite happy for me to fill out an internal form that would be brought up in next weeks WHS meeting. She said there was another form that when submitted, it will be electronically lodged to the department of education and children's services. She also found out the schools policy on MDF is twelve years old 2002.

Nearly a week later I was approached by the manager of the tech studies department and he said " do you realise how much paper work you have created for me " !!! I said it is my responsibility to report it and in my opinion it is a danger to the students, teachers and the cleaner that sweeps it up. He replied, what would you know " your just an SSO" !

Two days later he approached me and went on to say the school had their WHS meeting last night and the teacher has only instructed the routing of the side of a table top once and that's " the end of it ".

I replied that's not what the pictures on my mobile phone show and he replied " that's the end of it" !!!

The next day I spoke to the very approachable WHS officer and I asked how the WHS meeting went the other night and she replied, " it was cancelled ". She went on to say in confidence the other form that I submitted to the secretary at the front office, is who I replaced and she is a cabinet maker. She and the principal have decided to let your form go south and not submit it to DECS, as there was not enough grounds or information on my form to lodge my form and the secretary / cabinet maker had no concerns about MDF.

So for the last few weeks I have taken pictures of slots cut out of MDF of all the projects that the children have made. I have taken movies of the hand router in action with the student, while the teacher is watching. I have even interviewed students. Gee you guessed it, my services are no longer required..........

I handed my evidence on a usb stick to the WHS lady and she handed it back as she was scared of loosing her job. I gave her my details and said I would speak to her in a months time, after her next monthly WHS meeting and I would take it as far as it needs to go.

My friend is a project manager of building services and he says MDF has to be cut in an isolated area on sites taped off, with a level 2 mask, Not a hobby mask ! They have to blow off and vacuum themselves before they can re-enter the site.

Since I have had arguments with my partner as it is her opinion that if I want a job in the Government Department " You don't make Waves ". Well fortunately for the future of the children that is not my opinion and I will always cut my nose off to despite my face if I believe I am doing the right thing.

If I choose to machine MDF at home on my own and be complacent that is my choice and decision, but to teach bad practices and to put people in danger with a protect the teachers jobs with an ill informed attitude is SHIT when all I would like is a SOP ( Standard Operating Procedure ) placed on the drawers of the hand routers, the supply of PPE ( Personal Protective Equipment ) level 2 mask and an isolation / extraction room.

Any input or guidance would be appreciated.

I am truly Sorry for your health condition and for the ignorance of others that get paid well to supposedly serve the people.

Watch this space.......




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