What Is Creosote Contamination & Why It’s Harmful

After the recent multiple wildfires in California, many home and business owners are concerned that the soil on their property may have become contaminated with toxic substances. Smoke and heat from wildfires can affect the soil of the surrounding areas. One of the possible contaminants that can show up after a fire is creosote.

What Is Creosote?

The EPA defines creosote as “an oily residue that forms from unburned wood gases.” Creosote is basically tar that is produced when wood burns. It is a mixture of many chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol, and creosols. You may already know that this thick oily substance can build up in your chimney, making your home more vulnerable to a chimney fire. But it can also occur in soil, water, and groundwater after a wildfire.

Why Is Creosote Harmful?

Exposure to this hazardous substance can cause:

  • irritation of the lungs
  • blistering or peeling skin
  • eye damage
  • increased sensitivity to bright light
  • a burning sensation in the mouth or throat
  • acute stomach discomfort
  • kidney or liver problems
  • convulsions
  • unconsciousness
  • death

Exposure Dangers For Children

Children are especially at risk for creosote exposure because they are usually very “hands-on” in their explorations of their backyards. When children play in the dirt and then put their hands in their mouths, they can come into direct contact with creosote in the soil. Children who are exposed to creosote have a higher incidence of skin rashes than other children, as well as risks for all the effects listed above.

Risks For Pregnant Women

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that creosote exposure is particularly risky for pregnant women. Congenital disabilities such as cleft palate may be higher in women who have been exposed to creosote.

Contaminant Testing Your Soil And Water

If you own property near an area that experienced a wildfire, you will probably want to have your soil and water tested for harmful substances. Even if creosote is not found it can be very helpful to know exactly what you or your children are being exposed to.

Environmental Testing In San Jose, California

If you are concerned about the soil environment of your property, call Benchmark Environmental Engineering today. Our team of environmental experts specializes in testing for underground and surface contamination in California. With more than twenty years of experience, we are qualified to test for many toxic substances.

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