Ne pas réutiliser les traverses de chemin de fer créosotés
23/01/2023 2 min

Creosote: Do not reuse treated railway sleepers

Creosote is highly toxic to health and exposure therefore needs to be kept to a minimum. In France, creosote is only used to treat railway sleepers under very specific conditions. These sleepers should never be reused for fencing or firewood, for example. ANSES has submitted a restriction proposal to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) with a view to harmonising at European level the ban on the reuse of creosote-treated wood in France.

Use of creosote in France confined to the treatment of railway sleepers

Creosote is an active substance used in biocidal products designed to protect wood from insect and fungal attack and give the treated wood increased resistance to climatic conditions. However, this substance persists and accumulates in the environment, and can also cause cancer and impaired fertility. As a result, its conditions of use are strictly controlled by the European regulations on biocidal products, which limit its use to the industrial environment.

In France, following restrictions on use recommended by ANSES in 2018, the government limited the use of these products to the treatment of wooden railway sleepers in a ministerial order of 2018.

Reuse of railway sleepers poses health risks

In France, secondary uses of this creosote-treated wood are also prohibited. For example, individuals are not allowed to use it for fencing, charcoal or firewood, because these uses pose health risks to consumers and the environment. However, despite the ban, there is still a second-hand market for this wood. ANSES therefore reiterates that railway sleepers must not be reused. Existing creosote-treated wood should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Moreover, at present, only the "sleeper" shape of these pieces of wood gives any indication about their origin. The Agency recommends applying marking when treating wood with creosote so that it can be identified over time.

A desire to also rapidly limit uses at European level

In order to avoid exposure of the population as far as possible, it is important to harmonise restrictions in European countries. To this end, ANSES has submitted a dossier to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) under the REACH Regulation.

This proposal aims to allow only identical reuse of creosote-treated wood for the authorised biocidal use: reuse by the same user, in the same country, under the same conditions, i.e. in France this means use as railway sleepers. A socio-economic analysis showed that in the absence of a technically and economically viable alternative to date, this option would limit the production of new creosote-treated wood. 

The restriction dossier is available for public consultation on the ECHA website until 22 June 2023.