Creosote is a type of wood preservative that is commonly used to treat a variety of wood products including items such as outdoor fencing materials, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The substance is used to help prevent wood from rotting and becoming structurally weak when exposed to the elements. Some workers are forced to be exposed to creosote a great deal because of their occupation. These workers include railroad employees, chimney sweeps, dock workers, utility workers, and boat builders. The most commonly used form of creosote is a product called coal tar creosote. This is produced from coal that has been treated a very high temperatures.
Because creosote is considered to be highly toxic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has placed strict regulations on its handling and use. What’s more, the EPA has classified the substance as a restricted use pesticide and can only be handled by licensed pesticide applicators in a commercial, outdoor, or industrial setting. The product cannot be used in any circumstance on the interior of residences.
The EPA has taken this issue one step further and has classified creosote as a hazardous waste because it is derived from coal tar, and is comprised of more than three hundred chemicals. People who handle it in any form are at risk for it entering their bloodstream by means of their skin. Creosote can also enter the body by ingestion, such as is the case when groundwater becomes contaminated.
Hazardous waste sites are often the most common source of creosote, coal tar pitch, and coal tar contamination. People who work in an industry where wood preserving takes place are the most at risk for exposure to this compound. Those who reside in areas that were formerly used as sites for preserving wood may face exposure to creosote if the site was not properly cleaned up. Creosote most commonly enters the body through the skin when it is found in the soil. Children can also ingest the material if they do not wash their hands and place them in their mouths after handling soil or wood that has been in contact with creosote. That being said, creosote most often enters the body of those in the wood preserving profession by means of the lungs.
Workers in industries that produce coke, those who work as asphalt workers, and tire, aluminum, steel, or iron factor workers are all at a great risk of exposure to creosote containing products. These people breathe in the vapors and may also be in direct skin contact with solutions, wood that has been freshly treated, mixtures containing the compound, and various other harmful materials. Those who work with wood that has been treated with creosote such as building railroad tracks, fences, installing telephone poles, or building bridges may also be prone to exposure. Inspectors or maintenance workers in these industries are also at risk for creosote exposure.
Coal tar products such as creosotes can enter the body through the skin, lungs, intestines, and stomach. The exact amount that enters the body can vary depending on the amount of contact, such as through skin, water, food, or air, and how much of the compound is present, and how long exposure lasted.
Exposure to creosote or any of the coal tar or coal tar pitch products can lead to minor or serious health issues. Consuming food or water that has been contaminated with a lot of the compound can cause the mouth and throat to burn, and cause stomach pain. Ingesting herbal treatments that contain creosote bush leaves can cause damage to the kidneys or liver. Workers who have reported being poisoned with creosote, as well as people who have either intentionally or accidentally eaten coal tar creosote have found that brief exposure to large quantities can cause skin irritations or rashes, convulsions, kidney and liver problems, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, chemical burns to the eyes, and even death.
People who have been exposed to creosote vapors for a long period of time often report irritation to the respiratory tract. Cancer of the scrotum, as well as skin cancer have also been reported from long term exposure to low levels of creosote or creosote mixtures, especially when coming into direct contact with the skin during treatment processes for wood, to make the wood treatment products, or in natural gas or coke factories. Prolonged exposure to the skin with creosote or soot has been linked to cancer of the scrotum in chimney cleaning professionals.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized coal tar as a carcinogenic substance for humans, and creosote has been classified as a probably carcinogenic substance for humans. The EPA has also classified coal tar creosote as a probable carcinogenic substance for humans.
There are currently no medical tests that can determine if a person has been exposed to creosote in any of its forms. Doctors can determine and measure the amount of chemicals that are found in creosote in the body’s tissues. These chemicals include phenol and PAHs, which can be located in organs, fat, muscle, blood, and urine after exposure has taken place. These tests are commonly performed on industry employees who work with substances related to creosote or coal tar. Patients are monitored regularly for exposure.
If your workplace does not provide safety measures to ensure proper handling of creosote or coal tar products, your employer may be negligent. If you or someone you know has suffered injuries because of exposure to creosote that could have and should have been prevented, you should not delay in contacting a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Workplace safety cases are extremely serious and need to be managed correctly. If workers are placed at risk any more than is absolutely necessary, action needs to be taken immediately to stop future similar acts from happening.
A personal injury attorney will review the details of your case and will help you throughout the entire process. Compensation can be sought for past, present, and future medical bills, loss of income, and in some cases punitive damages.