ANSES has examined several marketing authorisation applications for products containing creosote, a biocidal product currently used to treat and prolong the life of railway sleepers, telephone and electricity posts, fences and enclosures (in agricultural, equestrian or roadside contexts). As a result of these investigations, the Agency has decided to restrict the use of creosote in France to the treatment of railway sleepers. Even so, these marketing authorisations are accompanied by stringent restrictions on their conditions of use, to avoid worker exposure and reduce environmental risk. ANSES is also suggesting that a substitution plan be implemented by the rail network operators in order to phase out creosote progressively. The other uses of creosote, such as the treatment of wood for telephone and power line poles and also for fences, are no longer permitted, due to the risks to the environment.
Biocidal products containing creosote are used to protect treated wood against insects and fungi, and only in an industrial environment. Today, treated wood is used for railway sleepers, electricity and telephone poles, fences and enclosures (in agricultural and equestrian contexts, along roads and in non-residential buildings) and marine facilities. Creosote is a proven carcinogen both genotoxic (capable of initiating and promoting tumours in humans) and reprotoxic, whose conditions of use are strictly regulated by European biocide legislation. The Directive in question particularly states that “Biocidal products containing creosote may only be authorised for uses where the authorising Member State, based on an analysis regarding the technical and economic feasibility of substitution, (...) concludes that no appropriate alternatives are available.”
It is against this background that ANSES examined the marketing authorisation applications for three families of biocidal products containing creosote. An assessment of the risks to human health associated with exposure to this substance shows that the uses of these products for the treatment of railway sleepers are compliant, considering the extremely limited exposure of the general population and the strict framework for conditions of use in the working environment.
In contrast, when creosote is used for the treatment of electricity and telephone poles, fences and enclosures, etc., the environmental risk is found to be unacceptable, mainly because of the quantity of product to which certain terrestrial and marine compartments would be exposed.
Moreover, an analysis of the technical and economic feasibility of using substitute products, carried out by the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development for each of the considered uses shows that, to date, there are no suitable substitutes for the treatment of railway sleepers.
Against this background:
- ANSES is issuing three marketing authorisations for products containing creosote for the treatment of railway sleepers. These authorisations include the implementation by the rail network operators of a substitution plan and are subject to stringent conditions of use to reduce worker exposure and environmental risks: products must be handled in well-ventilated places; equipment must be worn to avoid contact with the skin and eyes; handling of dry sleepers must be kept to a minimum.
- The use of products containing creosote for the treatment of electricity and telephone poles is no longer authorised.
ANSES also recommends that individuals avoid any contact with railway sleepers treated with creosote:
- do not let children play in their vicinity,
- do not use sleepers for other purposes, such as for landscaping in gardens,
- do not saw, transform or burn treated sleepers,
- and contact a waste collection centre for their disposal.