Death or Damage by Creosote

Sure, you are all tired of reading about this topic, I suppose (although you could cut me short by calling or writing to the iniquitous knaves concerned — numbers appearing soon below). But a horrible night of the cloyingly dry and musty fumes has left me… in research mode. And I have learned a few things. Thus todayʼs post.

And if you would like to help alleviate our dire situation, just contact the careless culprits and ask them to cease their nefarious malfeasance and impairments to our health and happiness:

  • Dan Schmidt, manager of miscreant Gasser True Value, Maquoketa (work phone 563-652-2446)
  • Brian Wagner, Maquoketa City Manager (work phone:  563-652-2484; e-mail by name at

Iʼm going to e-mail this post to both.

A busy week means I have to plan ahead (somewhat — and somewhat more than I am doing), meaning I need to churn out at least two blog posts today/Tuesday. Unfortunately, I seem to have nothing to say. Nothing particularly new anyway.

Gasserʼs vast stock of creosoted lumber vaporizing a noxious stink throughout our part of Maquoketa (up to a mile — more? —around)…

The weather does continue pleasant, even cool, but the atmosphere is heavily tinged with the stench of creosote. Yes, Gasser True Value remains high on my list of local dastards. On Monday night, trying to sleep was a challenge, even with the chill air attempting to to lull us into unconsciousness. Why? The hideous, gagging fetor wafting up from the hellpit to our north, wretchedly overpowering enough to drag me over the boundary of dreams into the mephitic reality of western Maquoketa. Dead in the dark middle of the night.

Thank you, sneering and self-important Dan Schmidt, too utterly uninterested in the welfare of anyone else to even be twinged with doubt if or when your black pile of annoyance and poison should ultimately work its destined doom on those (like me) illfated to dwell within the radius of your maleficent stench.

Monday night I forced myself back to sleep, but what unknown damage is wrought upon my lungs and circulatory (or even nervous) system with each detrimental breath? The horror is that we (particularly demented Danny boy) do not know.

When I first posted on the subject of being forced to constantly breathe creosote fumes, a friend and former student referred me to a judiciously chosen (if you are of the letʼs-all-mindlessly-support-the-widespread-use-of-creosote-in-any-and-all-situations clan mindset) internet link — here — by which he wished to assert that creosote is harmless. Click the link to read the first words of the JAMA response to the editor, all that we nonsubscribers can get.

The article does not say breathing creosote is harmless. It does say simply that in the case under consideration insufficient evidence has been provided — yet. And thatʼs the situation overall, I have been discovering. Evidence is limited. Thatʼs probably because too much study might reveal toxic truths the industry would rather never got clearly demonstrated. The Creosote Council (the PR/lobbying group for the creosote industry) has been very active in promoting their single-minded point of view that this coal-tar derivative is harmless; check this document, too), although the EPA has clearly not moved from the longstanding position that coal tars are very capable of toxicity. Unfortunately, most studies have been on skin exposure to creosote and creosote-in-water, not on the fumes (although, as you will see, I did find a few scary references). Creosote is a pesticide, first and foremost, after all…

First, check this link. (And we particularly notice the fumage in the heat of summer…) And from the little article we quote: “I do not think you need worry about this aspect, but you should certainly be concerned about the fumes given off when the sleeper is heated by your wood-burning stove. These vapours are a well-known cause of irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, and you should take immediate steps to have the sleeper removed.” (I chose an easy-to-read article: there are more scholarly publications on creosote fumes, even available from the EPA, which strictly stipulates that creosote is only approved, being a known carcinogen, for industrial use and no residential exposure is recommended (used railroad ties are specifically listed not to be used for retaining walls or gardening dividers). But the clincher for me currently was the reference to creosote fumes and impariments of vision.

Breathing creosote fumes harms the eyes! (Hereʼs a link on just what keratitis is, and the picture looks a lot like Janetʼs eyes can get, hmmmm…) Is this the place to note that I have in the past several years noticed an increasing set of issues with my eyes (not to mention Janetʼs detached retina — probably unrelated, we hope), connected it seems to sensitivity to light. Twice in two weeks here in June (first on Fathersʼ Day and then Monday this week) I have suffered from strobing bright tiger-striped disruptions to my vision (both after working outdoors, where the fumes, by the way, are generally more obnoxiously obvious, the more recent on Monday afternoon after trimming the bushes in front of our house). These episodes begin with a small wedge-shaped brilliance roughly just offcenter in my vision that gradually grows and spreads to become a scintillating flashing semicircular radiance (on the right side of my sight) that (so far) over an hour to ninety minutes gradually fades. Furthermore, last summer sunbrightness seemed to dazzle me when running to such an extent that I kept one eye fully closed and the other slitted (even with sunglasses, which I also wore when working outdoors before the recent two incidents) to minimize the full light. I have similar distress while mowing here in the yard. Caused by creosote fumes? Definitely possible; I have after all been at home every day for a year, breathing more than ever previously the calamitous effluvium. Not caused by our neighborhood-wide creosote miasma? Unknown.

And I havenʼt begun to let myself consider the other mental/psychological and physical effects that are listed. Here are  some more links — one, two, three. Even more on creosote and health — four, five, six, seven, eight. You can do your own searches, too. Be sure to check the compounds composing creosote, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (which ones are never stated by the selfserving Creosote Council in its many publishings).

Hereʼs another EPA statement on creosote: “In regard to creosote treated lumber, we believe there is still a fair amount of uncertainty associated with the level of contaminants (e.g., levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons present in creosote) in comparison to traditional fuels. We, therefore, are requesting that commenters provide additional data on contaminant levels associated with these non-hazardous secondary materials relative to traditional fuels that are in use today as fuels.” The emphases are mine.

Unfortuantely, as I learn more, I grow more depressed at how both the business at fault and our sententious city manager in all probability have grossly misbehaved by hurriedly dismissing our complaints.

Creosote is only EPA-approved for industrial use. Our residential exposure continues night and day every day of the year (as therefore so should my open and public revelations of our  callous unneighborly attacker ruthlessly and unrepentantly assaulting us from the north). Sure, industrial use of creosote-treated lumber will continue (maybe it even should — the states of Oregon and Washington to the contrary), but stockpiling hundreds and hundreds of creosote-fuming logs just yards from our innocent but victimized homes seems criminal to me.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

8 thoughts on “Death or Damage by Creosote

  1. I do wonder if this causes harm. What about the grocery store next door, with the fumes leaching into the food that everyone consumes daily.

  2. Pingback: Your Garden

  3. Do any of the local TV stations have a “Problem Solvers” team. This seems like the kind of story that would be perfect for them and a little bad press might actually shame them into doing something.

    • An excellent suggestion, Tim! (I believe channel 8 may have just such a segment for their news…)

  4. A caller to the KMAQ call in show today who mainly called in to complain more about Aldi’s leaving Maquoketa, that he had also heard that Gasser’s True Value may also be closing. He had this reliable info from a employee of Gasser’s who said the hardware store was not doing very much business. So your piles of Creosote lumber may be leaving. But who knows how reliable this gossip is. 🙂

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