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Appendix XLIX: Some Timbers which cause Irritation of the Skin and Mucous Membrane.


This is a subject concerning which little information has been systematically collected. I drew attention to the matter in the Agricultural Gazetle for N.S.W., December, 1909, this being a second paper, Poison Ivy (Rhus), having been dealt with in the February issue. The Philippine Journal of Science, iv, 431, in dealing with "Indo-Malayan Woods," has some brief notes on Poison Woods, by F.W. Foxworthy, which supplements my notes. Dr. Foxworthy's paper was not received in Sydney until January, 1910.

New South Wales and some other Australian. States are rich in forests, and will become increasingly interested in the timbers of other nations for manufacturing and structural purposes, as time goes on.

I offer some notes which may have the result of causing deeper consideration to be given to the subject than it has hitherto received.


Dysoxylon Richii, C.DC. (D.alliaceum, Seem.), native name Maotamea, is found in several Polynesian islands. Dr. Funk, of Apia, Samoa, informs me that the sap or sawdust causes a kind of eczema on the hands, also eye inflammation, and a burning feeling in the throat.

Dysoxylon Muelleri, Benth. ("Red Bean").-This well-known furniture wood of New South Wales has been accused as follows:— Some cabinet-makers report that after working at it for "four or five days they begin to suffer from a virulent form of influenza, accompanied by violent fits of vomiting and bleeding at the nose, while, if they cut themselves in handling, the timber, blood-poisoning almost inevitably ensues. Remarkably enough, the more seasoned the wood is, the worse it becomes."

It appears to me that the language of exaggeration has been here employed.

So far as I can glean, the wood, and particularly the sawdust, is exceedingly irritating to some people, and it has indeed, induced severe dermatitis, and also irritation of the mucous membrane. We have, of course, several species of Dysoxylon (of which D. Fraserianum is the most important) which produce commercial timbers in New South Wales.

Chloroxylon Swietenia, DC. ("East Indian Satin-wood.")

Some time ago reference was made to the irritant properties of East Indian Satin-wood (Chloroxylon, Swietenia) on the workers in that wood, and it has been alleged that it was partly responsible for an outbreak of dermatitis among workmen employed at a saw-mill in Scotland some years ago. We now observe, from the Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, that an investigation of the constituents of the wood has been made at that institute, and the results have been recently communicated to the Chemical Society by Dr. Auld, of the Scientific and Technical Department.

The wood contains a considerable amount of calcium oxalate, a peculiar protein compound, two inert resins, a yellowish-brown fixed oil, and a small quantity of an alkaloid. The oil does not appear to exert any irritant action on the skin.

As it cannot be identified with any known substance, the alkaloid has been given the name Chloroxylonine.(Indian Forester, xxxv (1909), 662.)

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See my paper in the Agricultural Gazette, N.S.W., for February, 1909, "The Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans) and its close relations." I do not Wish to draw especial attention to this plant at this place, for I am dealing mainly with. timbers but Dr. Foxworthy (loc. cit.) has shown that in the Philippines the timbers of some Anacardiaceæ are undoubtedly irritant:—

The principal poisonous woods of this part of the world are a few Anacardiaceæ, which cause a skin irritation similar to that produced by the "Poison Ivy" and "Poison Oak (Rhus spp.) of temperate regions. These woods are produced by species of Gluta, Holigarna,Melanorrhœa, Semecarpus, and Swintonia; and they are usually known by the name of "ringhas" in the Malay region.

When seasoned, the wood is much less likely to cause poisoning than when fresh. The seriousness of such poisoning is often exaggeratted, and many persons are entirely immune to this class of poisoning.


Castanospermum australe, A. Cunn. (the "Black Bean"). — This well-known furniture timber of New South Wales and Queensland has, like the Red Bean (Dysoxylon Muelleri), been accused of injuriously affecting the health of workmen.


Eucalyptus maculata, Hook. (the "Spotted Gum"). — In parts of Queensland, timber-getters and sawyers who handle Spotted Gum are sometimes affected with a rash, called "Spotted Gum rash." I asked a number of timber experts: "Do you know any district in which this skin complaint prevails, and can you furnish any particulars in regard to it?"

Most questionees never heard of it, but Mr. A. Vogele, Mt. Douglas, Paterson, N.S.W., reports:—"Spotted Gum rash prevails here. Some are affected more than others. One of my neighbours who worked with me in the bush for years, felt its influence if only working, beside a Spotted Gum; to work one up was out of the question. If persisting in doing so he would itch, and afterwards break out in pimples. Every occasion he got affected more; at length he had to sell his selection on account of it.

Eucalyptus hemiphloia, F.v.M. ("White or Grey Gum"). — I have heard on one occasion of this timber causing a rash in a man, or at least of a rash being attributed to this timber. Nor is this irritation confined to Eastern Australia.

Eucalyptus marginata, Sm. (probably).

Port Hedland, January 26, 1910.

The steamer "Gorgon" arrived here yesterday, but the union lumpers refused to work under the rates asked for.

The union's principal reason for asking for an increase in the wage previously given is that the poison on sleepers inflames their flesh wherever it touches them, their hands, arms, and faces swelling up. When the stuff is dry matters are worse, as it gets on their bodies, and men have had to lay up in consequence. — Extract from Western Mail, Perth, West Australia, 29th January, 1910.

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The sleepers are most probably Eucalyptus marginata, the "Jarrah," but I have never heard of Jarrah being accused of being irritant before. I could obtain no further information in Western Australia.

I shall be glad of plarticulars in regard to the supposed irritant character of Eucalyptus timbers from any part of Australia.


Thuja Douglasii, Carr. — A curious case of a woman being poisoned by handling the branches and leaves of this tree while gardening is recorded by Neudorffer in the Centralb. f. Innere Medicin.note

The symptoms were spasmodic convulsions, dyspnœa, and coma. Other persons appear to have been more or less affected who were working at the same employment. It appears probable, therefore, that the tree, which is cultivated for ornamental purposes, contains some poisonous ingredient to which some persons are more susceptible than others.

I admit this plant to the present list with doubt. But attention should be widely drawn to such a well-known tree, in order that we may ascertain what are the real facts of the danger of handling it.

It will be noted below that the wood of the Yew (Taxus baccata) and of the Savin (Juniperus sabina) are irritant.


Excæcaria agallocha, L.; Excæcaria parvifolia, Muell., Arg. — "Blind your eyes." These two yield an acrid juice which is more or less volatile, and which, if it gets into the eyes, will produce temporary loss of sight and other local irritation. Both are natives of Australia, and the latter also of the East Indies. Concerning it Dr. Foxworthy, op. cit., says:—

Excæcaria agallocha, L., the "eye-blinding plant" of India, is of evil repute. The wood contains an extremely acrid dark-coloured gum, which is very irritant in contact with the skin, and is said to cause blindness if rubbed on the eyes. It is said that the coolies who work this wood for charcoal stiffer a great deal from the effects of the fumes of the burning wood.


Poisonous Woods.

A number of woods show in less or more degree during their technical use disturbances of health. Some of these are woods which possess neither odoriferous nor colouring matter, and the opinion that these bodies are the source of the poisonous action is, therefore, untenable. Amongst indigenous woods the following possess poisonous properties: Taxus baccata, Juniperus sabina, Cytisus laburnum, Rhus tiphina, Rhus Cotinus, and Coriaria myrtifiolia. These, however, are seldom used, and then only in small pieces. Of foreign woods, poisonous properties have been found in Buxus sempervirens, Hippomane mancinella, Excæcaria agallocha, Amyris balsamifera, Convolvulus scoparius, and Santalum album, and various satin woods.-J. Grossman (Bayr. Ind-u. Gewerbebl., 1910, 51; through Jahresber d. Pharm., 45, 12, 1911), in The Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist.

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Irritant Woods.

In connection with our (Gard. Chron.) article on Plants and Skin Irritants," printed on p. 110, the following contribution on "irritant" wood, which we extract from the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, is interesting:—

In the course of the past year inquiry was made by the Factory and Workshop Department into the effect of irritant woods, and the extent to which they are used in this country. For example, in the case of satin-wood, there was inquiry into (1) the extent and class of work in which it was used; (2) the evidence there is as to its irritant action on the skin; (3) the precautions taken in its use. Much confusion was found as to the kind of wood referred to as satin-wood, the two covering East and West Indian satin-wood and satin walnut. The first two are practically confined to high-class furniture and furniture-making, and to decoration of cabins and overmantel work in ships. Occasionally thermometer stands, backs of toilet brushes, and similar articles are made of it. In those trades it is used as an inlay or veneer, involving little exposure to irritant dust. East Indian satin-wood possesses much more irritant properties than the West Indian variety. Satin walnut appears to be no more harmful than deal. The East Indian wood is only used in two shipyards. It causes an eruption on the skin of the worker exposed to the dust or shavings produced during manufacture; but some persons are much more susceptible to its effect than others. One man stated to the Inspector that if he only placed a shaving of the wood on the back of the hand, it caused a sore on the skin at that point. The injurious effects, however, appear to be only temporary. Exhaust ventilation is in use for carrying off dust, &c., from the machines in most of the works, including one of the shipyards in which the East Indian wood is used. Reference to occasional contact action on the skin is made as to teak by Mr. Inspector Wright (North London), who refers to reports of swollen arms and eyes by Mr. Shannin (Liverpool), and by Mr. Grant (Preston), as to teak and olive-wood. The Inspector in Sheffield states that " in the manufacture of knife scales and tool handles the following woods are considered to be irritant:—Some of the ebonies, magneta rose-woods, West Indian box-wood, cocos-wood, and partridge-wood. Irritation of the eyes and nose is caused also by woods of the mahogany type. East Indian wood had to be discarded in the shuttle trade owing to its irritating action on the eye." Mr. Lewis (Manchester) states that salica-wood, from Cuba, was stated to give off "a fluffy dust under the machines and hand planes, the effect of which upon the workers is to cause a running of the eyes and nose, and a general feeling of cold in the head. The symptoms pass off in an hour or so after discontinuance of work." Eczematous eruptions are said to be produced by the so-called Borneo rose-wood-a wood used owing to its brilliant colour and exquisite grain in fret-saw work; but the Director of the Imperial Institute, Sir Wyndham Dunstan, who has interested himself in this wood, has failed to discover injurious properties in it. — Gardeners' Chronicle, 29th August, 1908, p. 167.

The above refers more or less to Chloroxylon Swietenia, already referred to.

Footnotes Appendix Part XLIX.

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