Use of creosote as a wood preservative in the European Union

Source: European Parliament

Question for written answer by Michael Cramer (Greens/EFA)

The wood preservative creosote is a Category CB carcinogen as well as a PBT and vPvB substance, i.e. it is known to be very persistent, very bioaccumulative and toxic.

According to the list of biocidal products authorised in Germany published by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), in product-type 8, creosote-based products are allowed exclusively for impregnating wood and solid wood in industrial plants in order to produce railway sleepers for industrial and professional users. It should be noted that, especially on warm summer days, creosote gives off a very noticeable smell when directly exposed to sunlight.

However, in Germany, for example in the district of Wittmund, fence posts made of wood impregnated with creosote are used on dykes on the North Sea.

The wood preservative can be seen to weather relatively quickly on the surface of the wood, and the degradation products seep into the ground.

  • On what legal basis are the importation and use of creosote-impregnated wood permitted in Germany for purposes other than the construction of railway lines?
  • Does the Commission consider that railway lines built on creosote-impregnated sleepers pose a threat to local residents, pedestrians and cyclists?
  • Is there any evidence of soil contamination when creosote gets into the soil from the surface of the wood, and what does the Commission intend to do to speed up the introduction of more environmentally friendly impregnating agents?

Answer given by Vice-President Katainen on behalf of the European Commission

The Biocidal Products Regulation(1) and the REACH Regulation(2) regulate the placing on the market and use of creosote(3).

Under the Biocide Regulation, the risk assessment concluded in 2011 prior to the approval of creosote did not identify unacceptable risks for human health or soil organisms from the use in railway sleepers. Cresosote-treated poles may lead to risks to soil organisms, but this use was not restricted considering the lack of appropriate alternatives in certain Member States at the time.

Creosote was approved for five years only, in order to provide an incentive to develop alternatives. The authorisation of creosote-based products is the responsibility of Members States, and Member States authorising creosote-based products had to submit a report justifying that there are no appropriate alternatives and indicating how they promote the development of alternatives(4).

The procedure for the potential renewal of approval of the biocidal active substance creosote is currently ongoing.

Recently France informed the Commission, in accordance with the safeguard clause of Article 129 of REACH, that it had adopted a provisional measure to protect the environment in respect of wood treated with creosote. The Commission is assessing the information. If the Commission authorises the French measure, France must prepare a restriction dossier under REACH.

(1) Regulation (EU) No 528/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2012 concerning the making available on the market of biocidal products (OJ L 167, 27.6.2012, p. 1).

(2) Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC.

(3) The specific conditions for the use of creosote were set in Commission Directive 2011/71/EU and specific restrictions, as well as derogations, on wood treated with creosote are included in entry 31 of Annex XVII to REACH.

(4) These reports are available at:

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