An official website of the United States government.

Creosote

Creosote is derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal and is used as a wood preservative. Pesticide products containing creosote as the active ingredient are used to protect wood used outdoors (such as railroad ties and utility poles)  against termites, fungi, mites and other pests.

Registration Review of Creosote

Creosote is currently undergoing registration review, a process EPA conducts for all pesticides every 15 years to ensure that products can carry out their intended function without creating unreasonable risks to human health and the environment. In its Proposed Interim Decision (PID), EPA proposed additional mitigation measures to protect workers who apply creosote. To read the PID and other documents, see Docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0823 at https://www.regulations.gov.

Basic Information

  • Creosote has been used as a wood preservative since the mid-1800s.
  • Creosote is applied using high-pressure equipment in wood-preserving facilities by certified pesticide applicators only.
  • Creosote poses cancer and non-cancer health risks of concern to workers in wood treatment facilities. EPA did not find health risks of concern for the general public, nor for workers who handle creosote-treated wood after application.
  • Creosote may pose risks to fish and invertebrates when creosote-treated wood is used in aquatic and railroad structures.
  • Alternatives to creosote-treated wood include the following:
    • Wood treated with other preservatives approved by EPA;
    • Wood-alternative and composite materials (including steel, fiberglass-reinforced concrete, laminated wood); and
    • Species of wood that are resistant to pests.

Disposing of Items Treated with Creosote Safely

  • Although creosote pesticide products are not available to homeowners, individuals may encounter reused creosote-treated wood in a residential setting. For example, creosote-treated railroad ties are sometimes recycled as landscaping timbers. Reuse of creosote-treated wood is not subject to regulation by EPA under pesticide laws.
  • If homeowners need to dispose of creosote-treated wood, it can usually be disposed of by ordinary trash collection (i.e., as municipal solid waste).
  • However, state and local governments may have specific guidance or instructions for disposing of treated wood, so please check with your state or local waste management program.
  • Do not burn creosote or other preservative-treated wood in a residential setting to avoid possible inhalation of toxic chemicals in the smoke and ash.
  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the federal law that creates the framework for the proper management and disposal of hazardous and nonhazardous solid waste.
  • For treated wood being disposed of by non-households, it is the responsibility of the persons generating the creosote-treated wood wastes to make a determination if it is hazardous waste.
  • Learn more about making a hazardous waste determination, www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/steps-complying-regulations-hazardous-waste.
  • State and local governments may have specific guidance or instructions for disposing of treated wood, so please check with your state or local waste management program.

Additional Information

Top of Page