Creosote, a widely used wood preservative, is utilized to treat telephone poles, railroad ties, outdoor fencing and other wood products exposed to the elements. Workers most likely to be exposed to creosote include utility workers, railroad workers, chimney sweeps, boat builders and dock workers. The most common form of the product is known as coal tar creosote as it is produced when coal is treated at high temperatures.
Due to its highly toxic nature the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed regulations on the use and handling of creosote. More specifically, the EPA has classified creosote as a restricted-use pesticide and only licensed pesticides applicators can handle the product in an industrial, commercial or outdoor setting. It has no interior residential use.
Furthermore, the EPA has designated creosote as a hazardous waste due to the fact that as a coal tar derivative, it contains more than 300 chemicals. Those who handle it either in the form of a finished product or through contaminated soil risk entry through their skin. Creosote can also enter the body through ingestion, as in the case of contaminated groundwater. These forms of intake can result in not only skin irritation, burning of the eyes and mouth or respiratory problems, but liver damage, kidney damage, birth defects and cancer, as well.
In New York, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has imposed restrictions prohibiting the use of wood containing creosote that has not been cured for at least three months. In addition to New York, many other states have attempted to impose statewide bans on the product and limit the type of landfills where it can be disposed. Inspite of these efforts, creosote continues to be used in commercial settings and as a preservative on wood fencing and railroad ties in residences.