Creosote-Treated Wood Products Are an Integral Part of the Nation’s Critical Infrastructures


Long lasting creosote-treated industrial wood products — railroad crossties, switchties, and bridge timbers; electrical, internet, and telephone utility poles; and marine and foundation piling — are essential components of several of the nation’s critical infrastructures.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress enacted the “Critical Infrastructures Protection Act of 2001” (“CIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 5195c. CIPA defines “critical infrastructure” as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” Id. § 5195c(e). The statute declares that “[i]t is the policy of the United States that any physical or virtual disruption of the operation of the critical infrastructures of the United States be rare, brief, geographically limited in effect, manageable, and minimally detrimental to the economy, human and government services, and national security.” Id. § 5195c(c)(l). A subsequent Presidential Policy Directive emphasizes that protecting the nation’s critical infrastructures is a congressionally mandated nation priority:

The Nation’s critical infrastructure provides the essential services that underpin American society. Proactive and coordinated efforts are necessary to strengthen and maintain secure, functioning, and resilient critical infrastructure – including assets, networks, and systems – that are vital to public confidence and the Nation’s safety, prosperity, and well-being.

Presidential Policy Directive 21—Critical Infrastructure Resiliency and Endurance (Feb. 12, 2013).

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Office of Infrastructure Protection (“IP”) “leads and coordinates national programs and policies on critical infrastructure security and resilience.” IP has explained that “[t]here are 16 critical infrastructure sectors, whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

Creosote-treated industrial wood products such as railroad ties, utility poles, and marine and foundation piling (and the federally regulated creosote wood preservative formulations used to produce creosote-treated wood) are integral to a number of critical infrastructure sectors. Those critical infrastructure sectors include:

  • Chemicals
  • Communications
  • Internet
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Energy
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Government Facilities
  • Transportation

For more than a century, creosote-treated wood products have served industry, the environment, and the public well. Like other industrial wood preservatives, creosote is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“US EPA”) Office of Pesticide Programs (“OPP”) under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”), 7 U.S.C. §§ 136-136y, and corresponding state statutes. Since at least the 1940s, creosote has been repeatedly scientifically reviewed, and continuously approved for use, by US EPA and its regulatory predecessors. As the Creosote Council has demonstrated through the generation of extensive toxicological and other data, there continues to be no human health or environmental risk-based justification for federal, state, or local regulators or legislators to prohibit, restrict, delay, or discourage the use of creosote-treated wood products (or the creosote used to produce such products) that support our nation’s critical infrastructures.

The compelling, national-security and homeland-security based reasons why Congress and the Executive Branch have mandated that the nation’s critical infrastructures be protected, must be taken into account, along with the scientifically demonstrable absence of significant risk, when and if federal, state, or local government officials consider any type of action that would prohibit, restrict, delay, or discourage use of creosote-treated railroad ties, utility poles, or marine and foundation piling, or the creosote wood preservative formulations used to produce those products.

Creosote-Treated Wood Products Play a Key Role in Maintaining Our Critical Infrastructures

Creosote-Treated Railroad Ties and Bridge Timbers Are an Indispensable Component of the Nation’s Vital Rail Freight Network

To put it simply, the nation’s railroads, which are used primarily to transport freight, could not operate without creosote-treated crossties, switchties, and bridge timbers. Creosote-treated crossties, whose average life is 35-40 years, literally serve as the foundation for a very high percentage (95%) of the more than 210,000 miles of railroad track in the United States. This represents approximately 648 million creosote-treated crossties that currently are in service. In 2018 it is expected that 19 million new or replacement creosote-treated crossties will be installed.

The basic purpose of the crosstie is to maintain the gauge between the steel rail track so that trains can operate safely and efficiently. The rail is attached to the crosstie with spikes that are driven through a steel plate into the tie.

Crossties are made from two hardwood types – the oaks and several other high density hardwood species. The ties selected for use are high quality and free of defects. They conform to a national industry and railroad standard. The standard wood crosstie is 7-inches by 9-inches and 8 and half feet in length. The ties are usually spaced at 19-inch intervals.

Switchties have the same cross-section dimensions except the lengths will be random. These ties are used where the track moves away from the main track to a sidetrack, for example into to an industrial storage yard area. The length of a switchtie could be as long as 20 feet.

Creosote is by far the predominant preservative used in the pressure-treatment of wood crossties. The wood crosstie represents 93% of all the crossties in use. Concrete (6%) and steel (1%) ties are used primarily for passenger rail systems or only under special circumstances, and are not interchangeable with wood crossties on a given stretch of track. Compared to concrete or steel, wood is the only renewable resource used as crosstie material.

In addition to creosote-treated crossties and switchties, there are currently approximately 35,000 creosote-treated timber bridges in service on the railroads. Creosote-treated large timbers are used as structural components of bridges over small streams and roadways. The treated timber is a significantly less expensive alternative compared to steel and concrete construction materials.

Creosote-Treated Utility Poles Facilitate Electrical Distribution and Land-Based Telephone Communications for a Large Segment of the American Public

Within the United States there are approximately 135 million wood utility poles in service that support electricity distribution and telephone systems. Creosote is one of the three major wood preservatives used to treat the wood pole. In 2018 there will be approximately four million wood utility poles pressure treated and installed by the electric utility and telephone industries. 4 Treated wood utility poles have been in use since the first order in 1897 placed by American Telephone and Telegraph Co. for 10,000 creosote poles. Since that time, treated wood poles have established a documented record of long-term performance and a reputation for safety and reliability throughout the industry. Treated wood poles are manufactured from a sustainable renewable natural resource that is both abundant and reasonably priced. They provide the most cost-effective material for the electric utility construction and maintenance requirements.

Utility poles are made from predominately two softwood tree types: southern pine and Douglas-fir. The trees selected for use as a pole must be “straight” and free of structural defects – a very high quality natural material that meets national utility structural and code standards. Wood poles are far less energy intensive to produce than concrete, plastic or steel poles, and they are safer for utility workers due to their low conductivity.

Creosote-Treated Marine and Foundation Piling Enable the Nation’s Seaport and Maritime Facilities to Function, and Also Support the Interstate Highway System

Creosote-treated wood piling are an integral part of our nation’s seaport facilities. Both the private sector and the military use treated wood piling and heavy large treated timbers in their dock facilities. Treated marine wood piling are used in numerous commercial facilities to support pier/dock structures in all of the nation’s major seaports. The piling act as support beneath the dock structure. Although in some areas concrete and steel have become a factor for use in supporting pier construction, wood piling still remains the most economical choice. Wood is the only structural renewable resource and is far less energy dependent to produce than concrete, plastic or steel piling.

Treated wood piling provide structural support beneath pier and dock structures of commercial cargo facilities at most all of the nation’s major seaports. These treated timber piling materials have been used since the early 1900s and have provided decades of continuous service in these commercial marine facilities.

Large wood timbers are used as a bumper or cushion against the large ships as they dock. The treated wood prevents damage to both the dock structure and the vessel during the docking procedure.

Many U.S. Navy submarine port facilities make use of what is known as a “camellog” (often made from creosote-treated wood) to protect the hull of the submarine from being damaged.

In addition, treated timber piling are often a more economical choice to support the foundation of building structures in areas were the soil is unstable – for example the wet sandy loam soil conditions often found in seacoast areas in the southern States of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

To provide structural support beneath the nation’s highways as they approach bridges. This situation again is an unstable ·soil condition and requires structural support, which is provided by the treated wood foundation piling material. For many locations on 5 the Interstate Highway System, the “approach” to the bridges has made use of foundation piling in construction beneath the highway.


Congress and the Executive Branch, along with every State and a multitude of local governments, have assigned extraordinarily high priority to protecting the operation of every critical infrastructure sector, both on an everyday basis and in times of national crises or emergency. Creosote-treated railroad ties, utility poles, and marine and foundation piling are essential for maintaining many interrelated critical infrastructure sectors, including the nation’s railroads, electrical distribution systems, seaport facilities and highways. Enacting state or local bans on the use of these creosote-treated wood products, or impairing or impeding their future use through delay or denial of construction permits, would seriously undermine homeland security.

November 2018

For further information, contact David A. Webb, Administrative Director, Creosote Council (

This paper was prepared by the Creosote Council (, the national, nonprofit, FIFRA joint data development group and product stewardship organization for the U.S. creosote industry.

Foundation & Marine Piling

Creosote is obtained from high temperature distillation of coal tar and is a restricted-use pesticide that can be used in outdoor settings. For example, creosote-treated wood is used in critical bridge and highway structures to support U.S. transportation.

Creosote-treated wood is also essential for naval fender pier structures and military communication systems. They prevent decay that damages pilings, bulkheads, piers, and other marine structures.

Protection of water quality and the diversity of life forms in lakes, streams, estuaries, bays and wetland environments of North America is a goal and responsibility shared by everyone.

Preservative-treated wood is widely used to construct bridges, piers, docks, boardwalks, decks and buildings used in or over aquatic and wetland areas.

Creosote and the Railroad Industry

Coal tar distillates in the form of creosote are a cost-efficient and integral part of North America’s transportation industry. Creosote was first used in the railroad industry in 1838 and still maintains approximately 98% of the North American crosstie market. 

Railroad crossties distribute the load of railroad cars and maintain gage between the rails. Close to 1 billion crossties are currently in service. 

Of the current track mileage in the United States, 200,000 miles are privately owned with an additional 20% owned by port authorities and the federal and state governments. 

It is estimated that 24 million crossties were inserted into the railroad system in 2017 alone. Creosote-treated crossties represent 93% of that total.