European Commission - Press release
Environment: Tighter restrictions on industrial creosote use
Brussels, 26 July 2011 – Tough restrictions on the industrial uses of creosote, a toxic chemical known for its use on wooden railway sleepers, electricity poles and in fencing, will come into force on 1 May 2013, following a tightening of rules by the European Commission. Creosote, a carcinogenic substance, may no longer be placed on the EU market unless a company receives an authorisation to do so. Consumer use of creosote has been banned since 2003.
The Commission's new decision amends the Biocides Directive and stems from a risk assessment of the effects of creosote on human health and the environment. Creosote is a carcinogen at any level, and there are significant environmental risks when wood treated with creosote comes into direct contact with soil or water.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Today's decision will contribute to creating a safer environment for all. Some uses of creosote will continue, but these restrictions will ensure that safety is a priority in all contexts. Industry should now step up its efforts to find viable, less environmentally damaging alternatives."
Creosote is an industrial preventative wood treatment which has been used for more than a hundred years, but concerns have grown about its toxicity. Creosote is a complex mixture of hundreds of distinct compounds, including bi- and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are very harmful for the environment and pose unacceptable risks for future generations.
Creosote-treated wooden sleepers are still widely used by railway companies, especially in rural areas or in places which are difficult to reach. Also well-known are the wooden poles used for the distribution of electricity or telecommunication wires. Agricultural and industrial fencing is also a big market for creosoted wood.
Life cycle analyses show that in certain cases there are no appropriate alternatives. Accordingly, Member States may authorise its placing on the market for clearly defined uses where no alternatives less damaging to the environment are available. In such cases, strict conditions apply, including measures to protect workers from exposure during treatment and handling of treated wood. The stakeholder consultation, which was part of the decision making process, indicated that there are considerable socio-economic benefits of using creosote in certain applications.
Member States must adopt and publish national laws that comply with this legislation by 30 April 2012 at the latest. The legislation will apply from 1 May 2013.
Technically, today's measure is an amendment to the Biocides Directive, adding creosote to Annex 1, the list of active substances with requirements agreed at community level for inclusion in biocidal products. The Biocides Directive aims to harmonise the European market for biocidal products and their active substances, with a view to providing a high level of protection for humans, animals and the environment.