Exposure to creosote has been linked with health risks. The article provides information about the potential health risks and precautions to be taken to avoid these complications.
Creosote, which is also known as coal tar creosote, coal tar, wood creosote, and coal tar pitch, is a commercially used wood preservative with no registered residential use. It is a mixture of different chemicals. It is divided into two types: wood creosote and coal tar creosote. The former is obtained from heating of creosote bush or beechwood at high temperature. While the latter is produced when coal is heated to produce coke.
It is also used to describe the black oily substance which builds up inside chimney flutes, due to incomplete burning of wood or coal. It is also used as a fungicide, miticide, insecticide, and sporicide to protect wood products, rail roads ties, and preliminary utility poles. This compound can enter the body through air, water, food, or direct skin exposure and may cause many harmful effects. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), there are many side effects of this substance.
Exposure to coal tar can cause many serious health effects.
- Consumption of food or water contaminated with high level of this compound, may cause burning sensation in the mouth and throat. It can also cause sharp stomach pain and stomach convulsions.
- If it enters the eyes, it may cause burning sensation in the eyes or chemical burns on the surface of the eyes.
- Consumption of herbal remedies containing creosote bush leaves, might cause certain complications like damage to the liver or kidneys.
- Brief contact with it might also cause severe irritation of the skin and result in skin rashes.
- Long-term exposure to coal tar may cause convulsions, mental confusion, and irritation of the respiratory tract.
- In some cases, prolonged exposure to vapors of this compound may lead to increased sensitivity to sunlight, damage to cornea, and reddening and blistering of the skin.
- Longer exposure may also cause skin cancer or cancer of the scrotum.
There are a number of ways in which a person can get exposed to this compound.
- Using skin products to treat eczema or psoriasis, which contain this substance is one of the most common ways of exposure.
- Consumption of dietary herbal supplements or herbal remedies made from the leaves of the creosote bush is another way to get exposed.
- People working in wood preservative, coke producing, or asphalt industries, are at a higher risk of getting exposed to it.
- Exposure to treated wood for building fences, bridges, railroad tracks, etc., can also result in a person coming in contact with it.
- People working or living in wood-treated houses, may get exposed to it through the air or by direct skin contact.
- Drinking water contaminated with hazardous waste and contaminated groundwater are also a potential source of exposure.
To reduce the side effects associated with it, certain precautionary measures need to be taken. People residing in an area where there is a wood preservation facility or gas manufacturing plant in the vicinity, should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Ensure that children do not come in contact with treated wood, when they are playing near railroad tracks or around ditches, which are closer to utility poles, old barns, etc. Avoid the usage of herbal remedies or medications which contain creosote bush.
In case a person is exposed to it at the workplace, then it is recommended that the person take a shower before heading home. EPA (environmental protection agency) has also designated coal tar creosote a restricted-use pesticide, i.e., it can be bought and used by certified applicators only. The federal government has developed standards and regulations, to protect workers from its potential health hazards. Also, if any complication arises, do not waste time and visit your health care professional immediately.