Creosote Exposure and Dangers

Each year workers are exposed to high concentrations of creosote and may face serious health consequences. Lawyers are pursuing claims for people with occupational illnesses related to creosote expoure.

Hazardous waste sites represent a major source of creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch contamination. Individuals working in the wood-preserving industry make up the largest part of the population who risk exposure to coal tar creosote. Individuals who live in areas formerly used as sites for wood-preserving facilities may face exposure if the soil was never cleaned up. The most common way for creosote to enter the body when present in soils is through the skin. In addition, children may ingest creosote if they put their unwashed hands in their mouths after touching soil or wood contaminated with creosote. The most common way that creosote enters 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 also risk 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 work with creosote-treated wood in building fences, bridges, or railroad tracks or installing telephone poles may face exposure. Those who inspect or maintain these materials, or apply asphalt or other coal tar pitch-containing materials, also risk exposure.

Creosotes and coal tar products can enter the body through the lungs, stomach, intestines, and skin. The amount that enters the body depends on the type of contact (via air, food, water, skin), how much of the mixture is present, and the length of exposure.

Creosote's Effect on Health

Exposure to creosotes, coal tar, coal tar pitch, or coal tar pitch volatiles may result in minor to serious health effects. 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 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 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.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified coal tar as carcinogenic to humans and creosote as a probable carcinogenic to humans. The EPA has also identified coal tar creosote as a probable human carcinogen.

No medical test can determine if a person has suffered exposure to wood creosote, coal tar creosote, coal tar, coal tar pitch mixtures, or coal tar pitch volatiles. Doctors can detect and measure chemicals contained in creosote (such as PAHs or phenol) in body tissues (organs, muscle, or fat), urine, or blood after exposure to creosote. Typically, doctors perform such test on employees in industry who work with coal tar creosote, coal tar, and coal tar pitch to monitor their exposure.


Our lawyers are interested in speaking to people injured by this substance and may be able to help them obtain large compensatory awards.
If you or a loved one has been injured through creosote exposure, please use our form for a no cost legal evaluation.

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