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Creosote/coal tar creosote wood preservatives

Creosote and the Biocidal Products Directive

The use of creosote as a wood preservative has been reviewed under the Biocidal Products Directive and the following inclusion decision has been taken . From 01 May 2013 wood preservatives containing creosote will need to be authorised for use in the EU. In the meantime national legislation will continue to apply, and creosote wood preservative products will continue to need approval under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR) before they can be advertised, sold, supplied, stored or used in the UK.

Under COPR creosote containing products are approved for use in the UK by professionals as part of their work.

There are restrictions on the use of creosote and creosote treated wood imposed under the REACH regulation EC No. 1907/2006. For more information see Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation .

Revocation of approvals for amateur creosote/coal tar creosote wood preservatives under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR)

In 2003, action was taken to remove the approvals given under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (as amended) for the use of creosote and coal tar creosote wood preservatives by the general public.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) acted on behalf of the former Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) (now Department for Innovation & Skills) to implement, in part, European Commission Directive 2001/90/EC.

In summary:

Approvals for professional and industrial creosote/coal tar creosote products were allowed to continue, subject to restrictions on the specification of the products and restrictions on where wood that has been treated with creosote/coal tar creosote could be used. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills  provided information on these restrictions  These are now detailed on Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation.

Creosote FAQs

What is creosote?

Creosote and coal tar creosote are complex mixtures of coal tar derivatives. Like petrol, they are mixtures of hundreds of distinct chemicals rather than one specific chemical They are commonly used as wood preservatives for use against wood-destroying insects and wood-rotting fungi.

In what type of products is creosote used?

Creosote and coal tar creosote has been used for the preservation of wood in the UK and in Europe for many years.

Creosote registration history

Within Great Britain, pesticides are controlled under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (COPR) (as amended 1997). Under this legislation, pesticide products must be approved by Ministers before they can be advertised, sold, supplied, stored or used.

HSE is the regulatory authority for non-agricultural pesticides in Great Britain, including wood preservative products.

Prior to 2003, creosote was approved for both amateur (use by the general public) and professional use. These uses were largely confined to the outdoor in situ painting of, e.g. fences and industrially treated wood used, e.g. telegraph poles and railway sleepers, or other uses where long service was required. Creosote was not allowed for use inside residential property.

In 2003, there were 52 HSE-registered amateur products containing creosote/coal tar creosote.

For a list of current approved products containing creosote see the COPR approved product database. All pesticides can be identified by their unique approval number, such as HSE 3146, which should appear on their label.

Why did the European Commission decide to take action against creosote?

The European Union had concerns over the carcinogenic potential of creosote and coal tar creosote for some time. In 1994, to control the specification of the creosote in amateur products, they restricted the levels of one of the chemicals in amateur creosote products, benzo-alpha-pyrene, to less than 0.005 % by mass, and this was implemented in Great Britain via restrictions on the specification of products approved under The Control of Pesticides Regulations.

However, since then a study led a EU scientific committee (the CSTEE) to conclude that creosote has a greater potential to cause cancer than previously thought, and that the level of the risk gives them reasons for concern.

To protect human health and the environment the European Commission therefore took action to prohibit amateur use of creosote products and to restrict the use of creosote treated wood.

The action taken across the EU to ban the amateur use of creosote was a precautionary measure. Any risk of cancer to members of the public was considered to be extremely small.

What restrictions were placed on creosote products?

Creosote products can still be used for wood treatment in industrial installations or by professionals for in-situ retreatment provided they contain less than 0.005 % by mass benzo-alpha-pyrene and water extractable phenols at a concentration less than 3 % by mass.

These products may only be placed on the market in packs of 20 litres or more but may not be sold to the general public.

For restrictions on the areas of use see Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation.

What restrictions were placed on creosote treated wood?

Directive 2001/90/EC required controls on the end uses of creosote/coal tar creosote treated wood. The former Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), as the lead department for this Directive provided information on these restrictions.

These restrictions are now detailed in Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation.

What Information were stakeholders given to act on at the time?

Members of the public can continue to use creosote products that they have already bought until 30th June 2003, and should dispose of any empty containers in the domestic rubbish. If they wish to dispose of unused products, they should contact their local council or waste regulatory authority.

From 30 June 2003, professional users can continue to use creosote products for in situ retreatment provided they contain less than 0.005 % by mass benzo-alpha-pyrene and water extractable phenols at a concentration less than 3 % by mass. They will only be able to buy these products in packs of 20 litres or more and must not sell them on to amateurs.

Retailers and wholesalers could only advertise and sell amateur creosote products until 30 April 2003. From that date they should have removed affected products from sale and stored them safely. For disposal of these products, they are advised in the first instance to contact their suppliers. As disposal of these products may be subject to the Special Waste Regulations 1996 (as amended), retailers and wholesalers may need to contact their local council for details of their local waste disposal authority and/or a specialist waste disposal company.

There will be restrictions on where the treated wood can be used. The BERR will be bringing into force legislation to implement these restrictions, and should be contacted for further information.

What are the penalties for ignoring this ban?

The approval for advertisement and sale of amateur products by the company that holds the approval for creosote/coal tar creosote products under the Control of Pesticides Regulations, or their agents expired on 28 February 2003. As such, any approval holder or their agent currently advertising or selling amateur products may be liable to prosecution. Enforcement will be carried out by HSE, local authority Environmental Health Officers or local authority Trading Standards Officers. Prosecutions may be brought under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

The approval for advertisement and sale of amateur products by anyone other than the approval holder or their agents expired on 30 April 2003. As such, anyone advertising or selling amateur products may be liable for prosecution. Enforcement will be carried out by HSE, local authority Environmental Health Officers or local authority Trading Standards Officers. Prosecutions may be brought under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

The approval for supply, storage and use of amateur products was revoked as of 30 June 2003. As such, anyone supplying, storing or using amateur products date may be liable for prosecution. Prosecutions may be brought under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

Who is responsible for ensuring that amateur creosote products are removed from the shelves?

Companies selling amateur creosote products and retailers will be responsible for removing products from the shelves. Failure to comply with these actions may lead to prosecution under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

The EU has had concerns regarding creosote for years, why was it only in 2003 that these products were being banned?

A study led a EU scientific committee (the CSTEE) to conclude that creosote had a greater potential to cause cancer than previously thought, and that the magnitude of the risk gave them clear reasons for concern. It was the finding of this study which led the European Commission to prohibit amateur use of creosote products and to restrict the use of creosote treated wood.

In 1994, they controlled the specification of the creosote in amateur products, by restricting the levels of one of the chemicals in creosote, benzo-a-pyrene, to less than 0.005 % by mass, and this was based on the information that they had at the time. In addition, they commissioned a study to investigate further the carcinogenicity of creosote. It is the results of this study that have led to amateur products being banned.

Directive 2001/90/EC sought to protect human health in the Member States by restricting the use of dangerous substances and preparations. The ban on amateur use of creosote products was implemented in Great Britain by The Control of Pesticides Regulations.

I have used creosote products for many years - do I need to worry?

The EU Scientific committee considered a study, which showed that there was some evidence of creosote causing skin cancer in animals, and as such concluded that there remained a risk to amateur users of creosote. This recommendation was based on results from a lifetime's daily skin contact with creosote, so it is highly unlikely that the occasional contact with creosote that an amateur user might have will be of any significant concern. This action has been taken as a precaution.

The conditions of approval, and hence the product label, for all amateur products state that suitable protective clothing such as coveralls, synthetic rubber/PVC gloves and eye protection should be worn. This will also have reduced exposure to the products.

I am pregnant and have been exposed to one or more of these products - should I be concerned for the health of my unborn child?

The action has been taken because there is a small risk of cancer, identified from repeated daily application of creosote to the skin. There is no suggestion of concern for the unborn child.

Is there a risk through inhalation?

The study on which this regulatory action has been based showed some concern for frequent and repeated skin contact. It did not consider inhalation exposure. However, studies of people working with creosote regularly in timber treatment plants have not shown that there is an increased risk of lung cancer.

What are the risks to professional and industrial users of creosote?

Professional and industrial uses of creosote have been allowed to continue since it is possible to introduce measures to reduce exposure, for example, engineering controls and personal protective equipment for workers. That is, the risk assessments and exposure reduction methods used by professional users should further minimise any risks.

What legislation controls the marketing and use of biocides?

REACH - In 2003, the European Directive 76/769/EEC (the 'Marketing and Use Directive') sought to protect human health and the environment in the Member States by restricting the use of dangerous substances and preparations. This has now been replaced by the REACH Regulation 1907/2006 (as amended).  The restrictions on the use of creosote and creosote treated wood imposed under the REACH regulation are detailed in Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation (search for ‘creosote’).

In Great Britain pesticides are regulated under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA). The Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (as amended in 1997) (COPR) provides the mechanism for implementing FEPA. They prohibit the advertisement, sale, supply, storage and use of pesticides unless Government Ministers in the responsible departments have granted an approval and unless general obligations and conditions specific to individual pesticides are met.

Approval is a legal requirement and it is an offence to use non-approved pesticides or to use approved pesticides in a manner that does not comply with the specific conditions of approval. If necessary, an approval can be restricted or revoked entirely. All approved pesticides were subject to routine review but were reviewed at any time and particularly if evidence emerged concerning their safety. All biocides (including all non-agricultural pesticides) existing on the EU market on 18 May 2000 have been or are currently being reviewed through the Biocides Review Programme.  Until products require authorisation under Biocidal Products Directive, products covered by COPR must by approved for use in the UK.

How did the EU reach their conclusions about creosote and its potential carcinogencity?

As a result of the European Union having concerns over the carcinogenic potential of creosote, in 1994, the European Creosote Industry commissioned a carcinogenicity study to be carried out by the Fraunhoffer Institute. The results of the Fraunhoffer study were examined by the EU Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE). CSTEE concluded that there was a concern to customers arising from the amateur use of creosote or creosote treated wood.

These conclusions were then discussed by the EU Marketing and Use Working Group on Dangerous Substances. A new proposal was drafted, which was voted on by the individual member states and agreed. This led to the publication of Commission Directive 2001/90/EC which places a ban on the use of creosote by amateurs and places restrictions on the use of creosote treated wood.

What is the CSTEE?

The CSTEE is the EU Scientific Committee for Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment. It is an independent group of expert toxicologists, whose mandate is to discuss and advise on scientific and technical questions relating to the toxicology and ecotoxicology of chemicals and biochemical and biological compounds, whose use may have harmful consequences for human health and the environment.

Is the amateur use of creosote banned elsewhere in Europe?

Yes, REACH and Directive 2001/90/EC applies/d to all Member States within the European Union.

What is HSE's role?

HSE act as the registration authority for non-agricultural pesticides under The Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (as amended 1997) (COPR) and before any pesticides can be advertised, sold, supplied, stored or used an approval has to be sought from HSE. Amateur creosote products therefore have to be approved by Government Ministers via HSE.

The former Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform were the lead department for the implementation of this ban on amateur creosote products in Great Britain and they asked HSE to take action to revoke these products.

Updated 2012-10-25