Public Health Statement for Creosote
CAS#: Wood Creosote 8021-39-4; Coal Tar Creosote 8001-58-9; Coal Tar 8007-45-2
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This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for Creosote. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, the ToxFAQs™, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737.
This public health statement tells you
about creosote and the effects of exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation.
These sites make up the National Priorities List (NPL) and
are the sites targeted for long-term federal cleanup activities.
Coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch have been
found in at least 46 of the 1,613 current or former
NPL sites. However, the total number of NPL sites evaluated
for these substances is not known. As more sites are evaluated,
the sites at which coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar
pitch are found may increase. This information is important
because exposure to coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar
pitch, or coal tar pitch volatiles may harm you and because
these sites may be sources of exposure.
When a substance is released from a large
area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such
as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment. This release
does not always lead to exposure. You are exposed to a substance
only when you come in contact with it. You may be exposed
by breathing, eating, or drinking the substance, or by skin
If you are exposed to wood creosote,
coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or coal tar pitch
volatiles, many factors determine whether you'll be harmed.
These factors include the dose (how much), the duration (how
long), and how you come in contact with them. You must also
consider the other chemicals you're exposed to and your age,
sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health.
What is creosote?
Creosote is the name used for a variety
of products that are mixtures of many chemicals. Wood creosotes
are derived from the resin from leaves of the creosote bush
(Larrea, referred to herein as creosote bush resin)
and beechwood (Fagus, referred to herein as beechwood
creosote). Coal tars are by-products of the carbonization
of coal to produce coke or natural gas. Coal tar creosotes
are distillation products of coal tar, and coal tar pitch
is a residue produced during the distillation of coal tar.
Coal tar pitch volatiles are compounds given off from coal
tar pitch when it is heated. Coal tar creosote, coal tar,
coal tar pitch, and coal tar pitch volatiles are rarely formed
in nature. Coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch
are mixtures of similar compounds. For this reason, many times
throughout the profile, we will refer to coal tar creosote,
coal tar, and coal tar pitch simply as creosote. Creosotes
are created by high-temperature treatment of beech and other
woods (beechwood creosote) or coal (coal tar creosote), or
from the resin of the creosote bush (creosote bush resin).
Wood creosote is a colorless to yellowish greasy liquid with
a characteristic smoky odor and sharp burned taste. It is
relatively soluble in water. Creosote prepared from coal tar
is the most common form of creosote in the workplace and at
hazardous waste sites in the United States. Coal tar creosote
is a thick, oily liquid that is typically amber to black in
color. It is easily set on fire and does not dissolve easily
in water. Coal tar and coal tar pitch are the by-products
of the high-temperature treatment of coal to make coke or
natural gas. They are usually thick, black or dark brown liquids
or semisolids with a smoky or aromatic odor. Coal tar residues
can also be found in the chimneys of homes heated with coal,
especially if insufficient oxygen is present. Chemicals in
the coal tar pitch can be given off into the air as coal tar
pitch volatiles when coal tar pitch is heated.
Beechwood creosote has been used as a
disinfectant, a laxative, and a cough treatment. In the past,
treatments for leprosy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis also involved
eating or drinking beechwood creosote. It is rarely used today
in the United States by doctors since it has been replaced
by better medicines, and it is no longer produced by businesses
in the United States. It is still available as an herbal remedy,
and is used as an expectorant and a laxative in Japan. The
major chemicals in beechwood creosote are phenol, cresols,
Coal tar creosote is the most widely
used wood preservative in the United States. It is also a
restricted-use pesticide, so it can be used only by people
who have been trained to use it safely. Coal tar products
are ingredients in medicines used to treat skin diseases such
as psoriasis. These products are also used as animal and bird
repellents, insecticides, animal dips, and fungicides. Coal
tar, coal tar pitch, and coal tar pitch volatiles are used
or produced in several industries, including road paving,
roofing, aluminum smelting, rubber producing, and coking.
The major chemicals in coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal
tar pitch that can cause harmful health effects are polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol, and cresols. Coal tar
pitch volatiles vary depending on the makeup of the coal tar
product that is being heated. About 300 chemicals have
been identified in coal tar creosote, but as many as 10,000 other
chemicals may be in this mixture. Because coal tar creosote
is the major type found in the environment and at hazardous
waste sites in the United States, we will emphasize its effects
on human health in this profile. The health effects of coal
tar and coal tar pitch will also be described.
This profile is specifically about the
toxicity of Creosote, so we will not discuss in detail the
health effects of individual chemicals in them, such as PAHs
or phenol. In the chapters describing what happens to creosote
in the environment and exposure to creosote, we will discuss
some of the individual chemicals or groups of chemicals (such
as PAHs) because many of the tests done in the scientific
laboratories can tell us which of these chemicals are present
in the soil, water, and air.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR) Toxicological Profile
for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbonspdf icon[PDF-9.26 MB] (1995), the ATSDR
Toxicological Profile for Cresolspdf icon[PDF - 7.6 MB] (1992), and the ATSDR Toxicological
Profile for Phenolpdf icon[PDF - 6.2 MB]
(1998) provide more information
on these chemicals. For more information on the chemical and
physical properties of creosotes, coal tar, coal tar pitch,
and coal tar pitch volatiles, see Chapter 4. For more
information on these substances in the environment, see Chapters 5
What happens to creosote when it enters the environment?
No information is available on what happens
to wood creosote when it enters the environment. Coal tar
creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch, and coal tar pitch volatiles
do not occur in the environment naturally, but are by-products
produced in coke or gas manufacturing plants using high-temperature
processes. Coal tar creosote is released to water and soil
mainly as a result of its use in the wood preservation industry.
In the past, waste water from wood-treatment facilities was
often discharged to unlined lagoons where it formed a sludge.
Also, companies that preserve wood with coal tar creosote
may treat their water wastes in treatment plants or release
the waste water to the municipal water treatment system. This
is still the largest source of coal tar creosote in the environment.
However, new restrictions from EPA have caused changes in
the treatment methods that have decreased the amount of creosote
available to move into soil from waste water effluents. Coal
tar creosote contains some components that dissolve in water
and some that do not. Coal tar creosote components that dissolve
in water may move through the soil to eventually reach and
enter the groundwater, where they may persist. Once in the
groundwater, breakdown may take years. Most of the components
that are not water soluble will remain in place in a tar-like
mass. Migration from the site of contamination is not extensive.
Breakdown in soil can take months for some components of coal
tar creosote, and much longer for others. Sometimes, the small
amounts of chemical remaining in the soil or water that take
a long time to break down are still toxic to some animals
and possibly to humans. Coal tar creosote components may also
be found in the soil as a result of leaking or seeping from
treated timber. More complete information on how creosote
enters the environment and what happens to creosote in the
environment can be found in Chapters 5 and 6 of this
Volatile chemicals in coal tar creosote
may evaporate and enter the air. About 1-2% of the coal tar
creosote applied to treated wood is released to the air. This
is a small amount compared with the amount of coal tar creosote
found in waste water or soil. Volatile chemicals in coal tar
and coal tar pitch are released into the environment in a
similar way. They are most often found in and around coke-
or natural gas-producing factories, in industrial plants where
coal tar and coal tar sludges are used, or at abandoned coke
or gas factory sites. Water or soil surrounding these areas
may contain detectable levels of coal tar or coal tar pitch.
Once coal tar creosote is in the environment,
both plants and animals can absorb parts of the creosote mixture.
Some components of coal tar creosote have been found in plants
exposed to creosote-treated wood in nearby soil. The plants
absorb very little (less than 0.5% of the amount available
to the plant). Animals such as voles, crickets, snails, pill
bugs, and worms take up coal tar creosote components from
the environment that are passed into the body through skin,
lungs, or stomachs. Animals that live in the water, such as
crustacea, shellfish, and worms, also take up coal tar creosote
compounds. For instance, mussels attached to creosote-treated
pilings and snails and oysters living in water near a wood-treatment
plant had creosote in their tissues. Coal tar creosote components
are also broken down by microorganisms living in the soil
and natural water. The components of coal tar and coal tar
pitch move in the environment in a similar way.
How might I be exposed to creosote?
Most people are exposed to very low levels
of creosote. People who are exposed to higher concentrations
than the general population are those exposed to creosote
in their jobs and those who use products that contain creosote
to improve a health problem such as eczema or psoriasis.
Some people are exposed to creosote by
using shampoos for psoriasis that contain creosote. Herbal
remedies containing the leaves from the creosote bush (chaparral)
are available as a dietary supplement and are a source of
exposure to wood creosote. People who drink chaparral tea
could be exposed to wood creosote. Hazardous waste sites are
a major source of contamination with creosote, coal tar, and
coal tar pitch. Individuals working in the wood-preserving
industry make up the largest part of the population that might
be exposed to coal tar creosote. Individuals who live in areas
that used to be sites of wood-preserving facilities may be
exposed if the soil was never cleaned up. The most common
way that creosote will enter the body when it is present in
soils is through the skin. In addition, children may also
ingest creosote if they put their unwashed hands in their
mouths after touching soil or wood contaminated with creosote.
The most common way that it will enter the body for individuals
in the wood-preserving industry is through the lungs.
Asphalt workers; rubber, aluminum, iron,
steel, and tire factory workers; and people working in the
coke-producing industries are also at risk for potential exposure
to coal tar pitch and coal tar pitch volatiles. They may breathe
in vapors from or have direct skin contact with wood-preservation
solutions, freshly treated wood, asphalt mixtures, or other
products of coke-producing industries. Workers who use creosote-treated
wood in building fences, bridges, or railroad tracks or installing
telephone poles may be exposed; those who inspect or maintain
these materials, or apply asphalt or other coal tar pitch-containing
materials, may also be exposed. Homeowners, farmers, or landscapers
who apply coal tar creosote to wood in noncommercial settings
using a brush or dip procedure (which is no longer allowed
by law unless you have been trained to safely use creosote
as a wood preservative), or who use railroad ties or telephone
poles in landscaping, or who reclaim scrap lumber from a treated
structure may also be exposed. In addition, people who work
or live in treated-wood houses (log cabins) may be exposed
through the air or by direct contact with the wood. Exposure
to coal tar products may also occur in the natural gas and
aluminum smelting industries. You can be exposed by any contact
with water, soil, air, or plant and animal tissues that contain
creosotes, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or its volatile components.
Intentional or accidental eating of coal tar creosote has
resulted in poisoning. If your activities bring you into contact
with these mixtures, such as at hazardous waste sites, in
contaminated groundwater, in wood products treated with creosote,
or in contaminated shellfish, you will be exposed to coal
tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or coal tar pitch
volatiles.You can also be exposed by drinking water contaminated
by a hazardous waste site. For more information on human exposure
to these substances, see Chapter 6.
How can creosote enter and leave my body?
Creosotes and coal tar products can enter
your body through the lungs, stomach, intestines, and skin.
No information that describes how fast or how much creosote
or its components might enter the body after one or many exposures
is available. The amount that enters the body depends on how
you come in contact with it (via air, food, water, skin),
how much of the mixture is present, and how long you are exposed
to it. Many of the parts of the coal tar creosote mixture
(for example, PAHs) are rapidly absorbed through the lungs,
stomach, and intestines. Prolonged exposure through the skin,
without washing, may increase the amount of the creosotes
or coal tar products that pass into the bloodstream. Individual
components of coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch,
and coal tar pitch volatiles may be stored in body fat. In
the body, some coal tar components may be metabolized. For
example, pyrene can be metabolized to 1-hydroxypyrene. Some
studies indicate that creosotes may cross the placenta into
the tissue of the developing fetus. Because coal tar products
may be stored in body fat, they may be found in breast milk.
Creosotes leave the body primarily in the stool; a smaller
amount leaves the body in the urine. See Chapter 3 for
more information on how creosotes and coal tar products enter
and leave the body.
How can creosote affect my health?
To protect the public from the harmful
effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways to treat people
who have been harmed, scientists use many tests.
Exposure to creosotes, coal tar, coal
tar pitch, or coal tar pitch volatiles may be harmful to your
health. Eating food or drinking water contaminated with a
high level of these compounds may cause a burning in the mouth
and throat as well as stomach pain. Taking herbal remedies
containing creosote bush leaves may result in damage to the
liver or kidney. Reports describing poisoning in workers exposed
to coal tar creosote, or in people who accidentally or intentionally
ate coal tar creosote prove that these chemicals can be harmful.
These reports indicate that brief exposure to large amounts
of coal tar creosote may result in a rash or severe irritation
of the skin, chemical burns of the surfaces of the eye, convulsions
and mental confusion, kidney or liver problems, unconsciousness,
or even death. Longer exposure to lower levels of coal tar
creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch or coal tar pitch volatiles
by direct contact with the skin or by exposure to the vapors
from these mixtures can also result in increased sensitivity
to sunlight, damage to the cornea, and skin damage such as
reddening, blistering, or peeling. Longer exposures to the
vapors of the creosotes, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or coal
tar pitch volatiles can also cause irritation of the respiratory
tract. Skin cancer and cancer of the scrotum have also resulted
from long exposure to low levels of these chemical mixtures,
especially through direct contact with the skin during wood
treatment or manufacture of coal tar creosote-treated products,
or in coke or natural gas factories. Prolonged skin exposure
to soot and coal tar creosote has been associated with cancer
of the scrotum in chimney sweeps. These levels are much higher
than the levels that you are likely to be exposed to in groundwater,
food, air, or soil.
One way to see if a chemical will hurt
people is to learn how the chemical is absorbed, used, and
released by the body; for some chemicals, animal testing may
be necessary. Animal testing may also be used to identify
health effects such as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory
animals, scientists would lose a basic method to get information
needed to make wise decisions to protect public health. Scientists
have the responsibility to treat research animals with care
and compassion. Laws today protect the welfare of research
animals, and scientists must comply with strict animal care
Rats and mice fed a large amount of wood
creosote at one time had convulsions and died. Rats fed a
smaller amount of wood creosote for a long period developed
kidney and liver problems, and died. Exposure to coal tar
products through the skin has resulted in skin cancer in animals.
Laboratory animals that ate food containing coal tar developed
cancer of the lungs, liver, and stomach, and animals exposed
to coal tar in the air developed lung and skin cancer.
The International Agency for Research
on Cancer (IARC) has determined that coal tar is carcinogenic
to humans and that creosote is probably carcinogenic to humans.
EPA has also determined that coal tar creosote is a probable
How can creosote affect children?
This section discusses potential health
effects from exposures during the period from conception to
maturity at 18 years of age in humans.
Children are generally exposed to very
low levels of creosote, but intentional or accidental eating
of coal tar creosote has resulted in poisoning. Children who
live in hazardous waste areas contaminated with creosote may
be exposed by drinking contaminated water or from contact
with soil. The most common way that creosote will enter the
body when it is present in soils is through the skin. However,
children may also swallow creosote if they eat dirt or put
their unwashed hands in their mouths after touching soil or
wood contaminated with creosote. In addition, children may
be exposed to creosote compounds if they eat fish and shellfish
from contaminated areas. Children may also be exposed to creosote
if they use products that contain creosote to improve a health
problem such as dandruff, eczema, or psoriasis, or if they
are given an herbal remedy containing the leaves from the
creosote bush (chaparral).
Children may also be exposed to creosote
if they breathe in vapors from or have direct skin contact
with freshly treated wood found in fences, bridges, railroad
ties, or telephone poles. In addition, children who live in
treated-wood houses (log cabins) may be exposed through the
air or by direct contact with the wood. The use of creosote
to protect wooden playground equipment or wooden decks for
the yard is not recommended, but children may be exposed to
creosote if it has been applied to wood in or around the home
in the past. Children could also be exposed to creosote on
their parent's clothing or shoes if these have been contaminated
with creosote at the workplace. Children are not more likely
to be exposed to creosote than adults, and there is no unique
exposure of children to creosote.
Children who played on soil contaminated
with creosote had more skin rashes than children who played
in uncontaminated areas. Apart from this, the health effects
of creosote have not been studied in children, but they would
likely experience the same health effects seen in adults exposed
to creosote. We do not know whether children differ from adults
in their susceptibility to health effects from creosote. Children
could be more susceptible to cancer because they might have
a longer time in which to develop it, but this association
has not been studied.
No effects have been reported for children
exposed to creosote before birth. Experiments in laboratory
animals have shown birth defects, such as cleft palates, in
the young of mothers exposed to high levels of creosote during
pregnancy, but whether creosote could induce such defects
in humans is not known. Some animal studies indicate that
creosotes may cross the placenta into the tissue of the developing
fetus. Because chemical components of coal tar may be stored
in body fat, they may be found in breast milk and therefore
could be transferred to newborns and infants. For more information
on the effects of creosote on children, see Section 3.7.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to creosote?
If your doctor finds that you have been
exposed to significant amounts of creosote, coal tar, coal
tar pitch, or coal tar pitch volatiles, ask whether your children
might also be exposed. Your doctor might need to ask your
state health department to investigate.
Families may reduce the risk of exposure
to coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch, and coal tar
pitch volatiles in several ways if they find that they are
at risk of such exposures. If you live in a residential area
that used to have a wood preservation facility or gas manufacturing
plant located nearby, you should use precautions to decrease
or limit your exposure to creosote that may be present in
the soil or water. This may include wearing long-sleeved shirts
and long pants when working or playing outside and avoiding
using water contaminated with creosote. If the soil in your
yard was contaminated by creosote in the past, you should
probably not grow food in it. You will need to wash your hands
and any other exposed skin carefully after you are in contact
with the contaminated soil or water outside. This is especially
true for children since they have a tendency to put their
hands in their mouths. Some children eat a lot of dirt. It
is not fully understood how much of the creosote bound to
dirt may come off the dirt when it is inside your body. You
should discourage children from eating dirt. Make sure they
wash their hands frequently and before eating. Discourage
your children from putting their hands in their mouths or
from engaging in other hand-to-mouth activity.
Children may be exposed to creosote during
their outdoor play activities. You should encourage your children
not to play in contaminated areas, particularly in those that
may be abandoned waste sites or waste sites undergoing cleanup.
Some children will ignore signs posted at the sites that alert
the public to possible dangers and declare the areas off limits.
Encourage your children to follow the instructions on the
signs and to play elsewhere. Children may come into contact
with creosote-treated wood when playing on or near railroad
tracks, in ditches close to utility poles, in old barns or
other farm structures, or on bridges or piers. Children may
also be exposed to creosote through ingestion if they chew
or place their mouths on creosote-treated objects such as
fence posts or pier railings. You should discourage your children
from such behavior and from putting foreign objects in their
Drinking chaparral tea may result in
exposure to wood creosote by swallowing. If you drink chaparral
tea you may expose your children. Creosote is also found in
coal tar shampoos used for anti-dandruff therapy, in coal
tar ointments used for treatment of eczematous dermatitis
and in mineral coal tar for the treatment of psoriasis. You
may expose your children to creosote if you use any of these
products. Ask your doctor to suggest alternative treatments
that do not involve the use of these products.
It is sometimes possible to carry creosote
into the home on work clothing or shoes that may have been
exposed to coal tar creosote, coal tar, or coal tar pitch
at the workplace. This may be of more importance for people
who work in the wood-preserving industry or in jobs such as
roofing, paving, and chimney cleaning than for people who
work in the coking industry, or in other plants that use coal
tar-derived products and for which the main route of exposure
is through breathing in contaminated dust. You can contaminate
your car, home, or other locations outside work where children
might be exposed to creosote. You should know about this possibility
if you work with creosote. Long-term exposure to low levels
of creosote through direct contact with skin has resulted
in skin cancer. For workers in wood preservation facilities,
the American Wood Preservers Institute (AWPI) recommends washing
work clothes separately from other household clothing if oily
creosote residues or sawdust from creosote-treated wood are
present on the clothes. Adults with contaminated work clothes
should wash them before reusing them. If you work in an industry
in which creosote is used, your occupational health and safety
officer at work should tell you whether this or other chemicals
you work with are dangerous and likely to be carried home
on your clothes, body, or tools and whether you should be
showering and changing clothes before you leave work, storing
your street clothes in a separate area of the workplace, or
laundering your work clothes at home separately from other
clothes. Your employer should have Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDSs) for many of the chemicals used at your place of work,
as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA). Information on these sheets should include chemical
names and hazardous ingredients, important properties (such
as fire and explosion data), potential health effects, how
you get the chemical(s) in your body, how to properly handle
the materials, and what to do in an emergency. Your employer
is legally responsible for providing a safe workplace and
should freely answer your questions about hazardous chemicals.
Your OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program
or OSHA can answer any further questions and help your employer
identify and correct problems with hazardous substances. Your
OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program
or OSHA will listen to your formal complaints about workplace
health hazards and inspect your workplace when necessary.
Employees have a right to optimal safety and health on the
job without fear of punishment.
Your children may be exposed to creosote
compounds by eating certain types of fish and shellfish caught
from certain locations. Certain states, American Indian tribes,
and U.S. territories have issued freshwater fish advisories
to warn people about creosote-contaminated fish. Each state,
American Indian tribe, or U.S. territory sets its own criteria
for issuing fish advisories. A fish advisory will specify
which bodies of water have restrictions. The advisory will
tell you what types and sizes of fish are of concern. The
advisory may completely ban eating fish or tell you to limit
your meals of a certain fish type. For example, an advisory
may tell you to eat a certain type of fish no more than once
a month. The advisory may tell you to eat only certain parts
of the fish and how to prepare or cook the fish to decrease
your exposure to creosote. The fish advisory may be stricter
to protect pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children.
Chemicals in creosote have been found in breast milk and may
cross the placenta. To reduce your child's exposure to creosote,
obey fish advisories. Information on fish and wildlife advisories
in your home state is available from your state health or
natural resources department. Signs might also be posted in
certain fishing areas.
Creosote is a restricted-use pesticide,
meaning that it is only supposed to be applied by people who
are trained to use it safely and who have been tested and
approved to use it. It is not available over-the-counter for
use in the home or garden. The AWPI does not recommend the
use of creosote to protect wooden playground equipment or
wooden decks for the yard. Other pesticides are generally
used for preserving playground equipment and decks. Your children
may be exposed to creosote if an unqualified person applies
it to wood in or around your home, such as to sundecks or
to wooden equipment your children play on. In some cases,
the improper use of pesticides banned for use in homes has
turned homes into hazardous waste sites. Make sure that any
person you hire is licensed and, if appropriate (as is the
case for creosote), certified to apply pesticides. Your state
licenses each person who is qualified to apply pesticides
according to EPA standards and further certifies each person
who is qualified to apply restricted-use pesticides. Ask to
see the license and certification. Also ask for the brand
name of the pesticide, an MSDS, the name of the product's
active ingredient (the chemical that makes the pesticide work),
and the EPA registration number. Ask whether EPA has designated
the pesticide "for restricted use" and what the approved uses
are. This information is important if you or your family react
to the product.
If you feel sick after a pesticide has
been used in your home, consult your doctor or local poison
Is there a medical test to determine
whether I have been exposed to creosote?
No medical test will determine if you
have been exposed to wood creosote, coal tar creosote, coal
tar, coal tar pitch mixtures, or coal tar pitch volatiles.
However, chemicals contained in creosote (such as PAHs or
phenol) may be detected and measured in body tissues (organs,
muscle, or fat), urine, or blood after exposure to creosote.
Typically, this may be done for employees in industry who
work with coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch
to monitor their exposure. For example, the metabolite 1-hydroxypyrene,
which can be detected in urine after exposure to pyrene, has
been used to test for exposure to creosote because pyrene
is a component of creosote. This test would determine only
whether you have recently been exposed to pyrene, but cannot
positively identify the source of the pyrene as creosote or
accurately predict whether you will experience any adverse
health effects. Moreover, analyses of urine samples for 1-hydroxypyrene
are not normally done in a doctor's office because they require
For more information on tests to measure
coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or coal tar pitch
volatiles in the body, see Chapters 3 and 7.
What recommendations has the federal
government made to protect human health?
The federal government develops regulations and recommendations to protect public health. Regulations can be enforced by law. Federal agencies that develop regulations for toxic substances include the EPA, the OSHA, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Recommendations provide valuable guidelines to protect public health but cannot be enforced by law. Federal organizations that develop recommendations for toxic substances include the ATSDR and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Regulations and recommendations can be
expressed in not-to-be-exceeded levels in air, water, soil,
or food that are usually based on levels that affect animals;
then they are adjusted to help protect people. Sometimes these
not-to-be-exceeded levels differ among federal organizations
because of different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or
a 24-hour day), the use of different animal studies, or other
Recommendations and regulations are also
periodically updated as more information becomes available.
For the most current information, check with the federal agency
or organization that provides it. Some regulations and recommendations
for creosote include the following:
On December 10, 1992, FDA issued
a nationwide warning to consumers (FDA Press Release, P92-38)
about chaparral, an herbal product derived from the leaves
of the creosote bush, because of reports of acute toxic hepatitis
after its use. The press release can be found at the FDA Web
Regulatory standards and guidelines for air and water exist for the most important individual PAHs and phenols contained in wood creosote, coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch. EPA has designated coal tar creosote a restricted-use pesticide. This means it can only be bought and used by certified applicators and only for those uses covered by the applicator's certification. In addition, coal tar creosote has been identified by EPA as a hazardous waste.
The federal government has developed
regulatory standards and guidelines to protect workers from
the potential health effects of other coal tar products in
air. OSHA has set a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 0.2 milligrams
of coal tar pitch volatiles per cubic meter of air (0.2 mg/m³)
in workroom air to protect workers during an 8-hour shift.
For more information on regulations and
advisories for coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch
exposure, see Chapter 8.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2002. Toxicological profile for Creosote. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.