Wenge, when powdered, is also used as a fish and arrow poison as well as having human medicinal uses in its native areas.
Wenge is not listed as being in any way threatened or endangered by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices But it does appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Endangered. The IUCN listing is due to populations losses of up to 50% in the past three generations due to habitat loss and harvesting. On the bright side however, Wenge is widely planted as an ornamental tree in its range, most notably as shade trees along major streets and in parks in Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of Congo.
To the best of my knowledge, Wenge is not subject to any special restrictions by any United States government agency.
I realize that inherent in working with wood is the killing of a part of the natural world that may be slow to return and if I become deeply concerned about this fact, I will have to find a new hobby. I hope that such a time does not come to pass or at least not any time soon. In part because I am concerned about legally and responsibly obtained wood, I am reluctant to buy from sellers outside of well-established and known vendors. I am highly unlikely, for example, to purchase any wood from auction sites, such as Ebay, because of uncertain sourcing and documentation, as well as the potential, even likelihood, of material being misidentified in order to achieve a higher selling price.
However, due to the commercial scarcity of some domestic woods, resorting to auction sites such as Ebay or Etsy may be the only way to obtain some desirable domestic, or in some cases exotic imported, species that are not routinely commercially harvested. The potential risks of buying in these marketplaces have to be balanced against the desire to work with a specific species of wood. That is inherently an individual decision.
I also realize that many, if not most, wood workers do not have endangered species lists memorized, therefore I think it worthwhile and important to do even a small amount of research before purchasing any lumber, domestic as well as imported, to be certain of the potential impact you are having, even in a small way, on threatened or endangered populations. This information is easy to come by and takes only minutes to locate through any Internet search engine, including those you can access on your phone as you are standing in the lumber yard or store. Unfortunately, you simply cannot count on a vendor to tell you a product they are selling is endangered.
Severe adverse reactions to Wenge are thought to be quite uncommon, however breathing Wenge wood dust has been reported to cause central nervous system effects, abdominal cramps, and irritation of the skin and eyes. In addition, Wenge is a sensitizer so the longer that one is exposed the more likely a negative reaction becomes.
A specific compound, a type of chemical known as a quinone, has been isolated from Wenge and it is believed to be a contact allergen.
Perhaps the greatest health risk known to be associated with Wenge is septic splinter wounds. Wenge, in its unfinished state, is extremely brittle and it is practically impossible to not acquire splinters when handling the wood with bare hands. These splinters from Wenge, for reasons not known, are much more likely to become septic, or infected, than splinters from other woods and the wounds, even if not infected, take longer to heal than wounds caused by splinters from other woods. Always use gloves when handling and working with unfinished Wenge lumber and turning blanks.