Peter(*) is working in a small agarwood trading company. His primary role is to pack and sort Agarwood chunk chips into different sizes (large, medium and small) into boxes.
Here is one unusual thing: he wears rubber gloves, long sleeves, shirts and a mask whenever he works.
It is quite unusual because these agarwood chips have been cleaned and scraped out of the whitewood. There is no woodworking such as cutting, sawing, filing, carving involved because these processes are done. Peter is handling a finished product that is relatively safe.
No cutting and sawing mean no sawdust; no filing and carving mean no splinter.
But something is unexpected.
During sorting, he felt a bit itchy in his two arms. Occasionally, he stopped what he is doing just to scratch them. At the same time, his nose was tickled by some unknown particles. He went to the bathroom to sneeze them out, but as soon as he came back to work, his nose was ticked… again.
Because of these reasons, he had to wear these protective gears.
Until one day
One week before the Lunar new year, the demand for agarwood chips increased. People wanted to make incense for worshipping and smudging their places. The current supplier ran out of stock.
After a few phone calls, Peter found us and ordered around 20kg of the raw agarwood chips. Unfortunately, there was no staff available to deliver; most of them already left the city to visit their relatives. So we asked Peter if he could come to our place and pick these chips himself.
Peter came over. He spent a few hours selecting the chips he wanted and sorted these chips at the same time on our site. Once completed, he rushed the orders to his clients.
When Peter got home that night, he suddenly realised that he did not wear his protective gear and he had been handling everything barehanded.
After a full day of touching, packing, boxing and delivering these chips to the customers, he did not feel any adverse reaction on his arm and nose, which he always had before.
Peter thought, “Oh great; maybe my body is used to the job.”
He did not know the exact reasons, but he felt great because he could work more efficiently without gloves.
The next day, he came back to work without wearing gloves and a mask. Unfortunately, he soon felt the itchiness on his hand and nose.
So he told his boss about the incident. They suspected something must be in the chips from this particular farm in a rural area. Peter and his boss contacted the farm owner named H(*) and told him what happened.
The farmer owner H revealed that he only followed instruction from another person who sold him the agarwood creation solution. This solution is a golden brown liquid and odourless. But not all farmers are successful at creating agarwood with this solution.
According to this farmer, many agarwood creating solutions are being sold in the market. There were no proper labels to show what were the main ingredients. Many different agarwood plantations also bought these solutions to create agarwood.
Unfortunately, many of these solutions are not safe for the trees. It could be either the farmer did not follow proper instructions or the solution are toxic. Either way, on average, out of 100 trees, 80 trees will die before they had agarwood. It means farmers would bankrupt.
The current farm owner revealed that this agarwood creation solution that he used contained pesticides. It was the pesticides that caused contact-associated skin and eyes irritation because he also had itchy arms and eyes.
Is burning pesticides-contained agarwood harmful to human health?
The Short answer is not sure.
The fruits and vegetables we eat every day also contain pesticides, but they are within the allowed limit, so we assumed it is safe. However, no one knows if this agarwood creating solution had the same type of pesticides within the permitted limit. Although agarwood consumers do not “eat” agarwood, they burn them or use agarwood oil. In other words, agarwood users take in odour molecules into their bodies. So it is a safety concern if they also breathe in these pesticides molecules. I know it may sound bias, but we do not recommend using this type of agarwood solution.
But we are sure of one thing; it irritates Peter’s skin.
Seeing the potential risk from using this type of agarwood, Peter's boss decided to stop getting this type of pesticide-contained chip. After all, who would like to deal with refunds, breaches in the contracts due to low quality, legality, health claims?
See Peter and his boss concerns, so we invited them to visit our plantation in Dong Xoai Binh Phuoc, where they can touch and feel the trees, the processed chips.
Peter and his boss later appreciated that our chips did not irritate their skins. Besides, Peter could work faster and more accurate without rubber gloves. His boss can supply these chips to their clients without worries.
After this incident, we got two new friends and partners, which we both feel blessed.