Creosote is not available for sale to the general public, and its commercial use has been sharply curtailed. There are foreign websites that sell creosote, but they also indicate that it is not for sale to the general public and that only commercial firms may purchase it, although it is unclear to what extent this restriction is enforced. Some firms that are allowed to continue using creosote include manufacturers of railroad ties, utility poles, roofing materials and some pesticides.
Creosote is a yellow-colored, tar-like substance derived from the burning of certain materials. Wood tar creosote is clear to yellow in color, has a smoky to burnt taste and is a greasy liquid of medium density. It is used to impart a smoky flavor to meat, in a limited number of medical applications and to some extent as a wood preservative. Coal tar creosote is yellow and more tar-like in thickness with a more pungent odor and taste, and is a much more effective preservative for sealing wood against weather conditions and insects. The use of creosote for medical purposes is largely abandoned in favor of better medications that are available.
Creosote was determined to be toxic and the American Cancer Society determined coal-tar creosote to be carcinogenic. As a result, the sale of creosote or creosote-treated materials is prohibited to the general public. It use for industrial purposes has also been restricted to a large extent. States such as New York only permit creosote-treated wood for use on utility poles and railroad ties. Railroads and utility companies may reuse creosote-treated wood for the same purpose but must dispose of it as specified by law if it is not reused and may not reuse creosote-treated items for other purposes.