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Creosote Dangers to Human Health

Updated February 21, 2017

Creosote, also known as pitch oil, is made up of chemicals that come from coal tar. It is used as a wood preservative in commercial products like telephone poles, fences and some material made for constructing buildings. Unfortunately, creosote can cause an array of health issues if you are exposed to it.

Who Is Affected?

People who are exposed to low levels of creosote are not in danger, according to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. However, people who live near or work around where creosote is used, especially places where wood products are crafted and treated, are at an elevated risk for a variety of health issues.

Skin

If your skin comes into direct contact with creosote, it is likely you will have some sort of reaction. Most commonly, people experience a burning sensation, redness and swelling at the site of contact. If you are exposed to creosote for a long time, you will develop sores at the site. Also, your skin will become more sensitive to sunlight and burn easier. According to the EPA, there is a correlation between exposure to creosote and skin cancer.

Poisonous

Creosote is poisonous, so swallowing it is extremely harmful to human health. Symptoms of ingesting creosote include convulsions, coma and death in extreme cases. However, unless you intentionally swallow creosote, ingesting it is pretty impossible.

Eyes

A more likely risk is getting creosote in your eyes. Symptoms of exposure include burning, irritation and a sensitivity to light. If you have a high level of exposure to creosote, it can do permanent damage to your eyes, although this occurrence is rare.

Breathing

If you inhale creosote fumes, it can cause damage to your lungs and other vital organs. Initial symptoms include irritation in your nose and a cough, but if you inhale it for a long period of time, it can affect the function of your brain, kidneys and liver.

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About the Author

David Harris is a writer living in Portland, Ore. He currently is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Spectrum Culture. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.