Nothing grabs the headlines like human health issues and I think it is time that the industry used this to its advantage by promoting the positive health benefits of using WBP. Maybe we could imagine designing and making WBP with positive health benefits? Rather like making GTI versions of cars in order to sell more standard ones.

Some speciality WBP already exist of course, like acoustic and fire resistant panels that help to improve our comfort and safety. I think that we can go further and design panels for air quality regulation, reducing stress/anxiety levels and even self-cleaning surfaces.

I discussed formaldehyde emission, the bugbear of the industry for more than 20 years, in my last article in WBPI and I see some positives. My research shows that WBP can regulate formaldehyde in the atmosphere, in other words, panels not only emit formaldehyde but adsorb it too. NAF (no added formaldehyde) panels should be able to “clean” air to a certain extent. Has anyone thought about developing such a product?

If they were to do so, and promoted it properly, it would hugely enhance the public perception of our industry. I was involved in a project on wood packaging where the wood is in direct contact with foodstuffs. The presence of bacteria is an important consideration in such situations (see Figure 1). Some data collected by collaborating researchers indicated that wood can actively kill bacteria; other researchers have found similar results. Certainly more research should be conducted in this area. If successful, then it should be possible to make products for hospitals, clinics, kitchens or other situations where anti-bacterial surfaces would be of benefit.

I found a manufacturer doing just that at the International Timber Show held in Nantes at the beginning of June. Viroc is offering versions of their cement-bonded particleboard with either anti-bacterial or mosquito repellent properties. Their publicity claims that the mosquito is the most dangerous organism on the planet as it kills an estimated 1 million people a year.

They are probably right. The World Health Organization says that about 3.2 billion people – that is, almost half of the world’s population – are at risk from malaria. There are no currently licenced vaccines. If Viroc’s product works, then they could be on to a real winner.

The anti-bacterial version includes benzalkonium chloride (BKC) as an active biocide. BKC is used widely in cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and disinfectants and is currently deemed safe to use. Why not consider developing other such WBP that enhance the natural biocidal properties of wood?

In my view, it is time for the industry to make a positive contribution to human health and comfort and to move from a defensive position to a proactive position.