Creosote is used on wood as a preservative to keep the lumber firm and to provide it with protection against bugs and other environmental factors such as fungus and bacteria. Old creosoted wood may "leak" the substance more readily than newer wood and presents several dangers to humans and wildlife that require careful handling to prevent.
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Health Hazards for Humans
Creosote remains in pressure treated wood for a long time so it should never be assumed that wood is free of the compound regardless of how old it is. Creosote treated wood can pose a health risk for people that come into frequent contact with it. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, inhaling or having contact with coal tar creosote may cause a rash or severe skin irritation, mental confusion, kidney and liver problems and difficulty breathing. Long term exposure to creosote treated wood may cause the compound to be stored in fat cells which could impact the body's health years later in the form of cancer.
Dangers to Wildlife and Pets
Old creosoted wood can pose a health risk to wildlife and any outdoor pets that may chew on the wood or scratch it as part of territory marking. Animals exposed to creosote experience similar problems as humans such as breathing issues and skin irritations. Though with animals, ingestion is far more likely. In large amounts, creosote poisoning through ingestion can cause organ damage in your family pet and other animals that happen to swallow the substance.
Disposing of Creosote Treated Wood
According to consumer safety and health company Koppers, those disposing of creosote treated wood should wear protective clothing such as gloves and eye wear along with a breathing mask regardless of the wood's age. The wood should not be cut or otherwise sawn apart as this will release more of the substance into the air posing a health risk to those in the immediate area. Creosoted treated wood should also not be used as part of animal feed structures or stored in areas that become wet or come in contact with a water supply. Some components in creosote are water soluble and can leach into groundwater while others can penetrate the soil where it may takes years to dissipate.
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