Use and disposal of creosote-treated wood
Creosote or creosote oil is a coal tar distillation product that is an efficient and toxic wood preservative. Creosote-treated wood is dark brown and has a characteristic odour. Creosote is an active substance that is very harmful to the environment and health and which use must totally end in the long term. Restricting use to only absolutely essential uses is necessary to keep human and environmental exposure to a minimum.
Creosote has been renewed as a biocidal active substance in 2022. The approval regulation lays down new restrictions on the use of creosote products and wood impregnated with creosote.
As of 30 April 2023, only railway sleepers and utility poles for electricity and telecommunications lines may be impregnated in EU Member States with creosote products and only in those countries that assess these needs as necessary on their territory. There is still a need for these uses in Finland. On 31 January 2023, the European Chemicals Agency website published a list of Member States where creosote treated railway sleepers or electricity poles may be placed on the market.
The labelling of creosote treated wood placed on the market after 30 April 2023 shall state:
- Only allowed for use as a railway sleeper or Only allowed for use as utility pole for electricity lines or for telecommunication lines
- During storage, treated wood shall not be accessible to the general public. Measures shall be taken to prevent unauthorised access. Treated wood must be stored on impermeable hard standing or on absorptive material to prevent runoff to the environment, and under shelter or covered with a tarpaulin. Any spill or contaminated material must be collected on such sites and disposed as hazardous waste.
- Treated wood can only be placed on the market in the Member States listed by the European Chemicals Agency.
Impregnation plants can only place sleepers and electricity poles on the market in those EU countries that are listed on the list maintained by the European Chemicals Agency. Wood exported outside the EU may be impregnated without restrictions.
The use of timber treated with creosote is restricted. The following applies to creosote-treated timber:
- it is only intended for professional and industrial use,
- it may not be supplied to consumers,
- it may only be used in overhead wire structures (telegraph poles and other utility poles) in permanent ground contact and railway sleepers,
- it is possible to use up stocks of wood which have been impregnated with creosote before April 30, 2023 for bridges or other similar load-bearing exterior structures,
- disused creosote-treated wood is hazardous waste, so it must be brought to a waste treatment site for separate collection. It is prohibited to burn it in household fires.
The use of creosote-treated wood is usually monitored by the municipal environmental protection authority. The areas of responsibility for the authorities supervising compliance with the chemicals legislation are presented on the surveillance webpage Who monitors what?
The Government’s (annulled) Decision 1405/1995, according to which the supply of creosote-impregnated timber to consumers, as well as its use indoors, in contact with food plants or animal feed and in playgrounds and other outdoor recreational areas where repeated skin contact exposure is possible, has been banned since 20 June 1996
The Government’s (annulled) Decision 8/2003, according to which use in garden furniture and toys has been prohibited since 30 June 2003