Inhalation and dermal exposure of workers during timber impregnation with creosote and subsequent processing of impregnated wood

Hebisch R, Karmann J, Schäferhenrich A, Göen T, Berger M, Poppek U, Roitzsch M (2019)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2019


Article Number: 108877

DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108877


Objectives: Coal tar creosote oils are used as highly effective wood protectants for, e.g., railway sleepers, utility poles and marine pilings. For impregnation of wood, the hot creosote oil is mostly applied in vacuum processes and by hot-and-cold dipping. From the perspective of an occupational hygienist, creosote tar oils are problematic because they have a number of hazardous properties, including carcinogenicity. We have studied inhalation and dermal exposure in six and four impregnation plants, respectively, in Germany. Some plants were visited repeatedly, for up to five measurement campaigns conducted over several years. Inhalation and dermal exposure resulting from vacuum impregnation and from hot-and-cold dipping, as well as secondary exposure resulting from assembly of impregnated railway sleepers have been measured. Accompanying, human biomonitoring of the employees has been performed. Methods: Inhalation exposure was measured using personal air samplers, collecting particles and vapours simultaneously. Dermal exposure was investigated by whole body dosimetry using disposable chemical protective coveralls and split leather gloves. 18 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been determined separately by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), respectively. For human biomonitoring 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) in urine related to creatinine has been measured using HPLC. Both, pre- and post-shift values have been determined for this metabolite. Results: Dermal exposure towards pyrene and the sum of the determined 18 PAHs as well as inhalation exposure to naphthalene, pyrene and the sum of the determined 18 PAHs are presented in this paper. The plants performing vacuum impregnation have employed different constructive, technical and organisational measures, and some measures have also changed between the different measurement campaigns. We have found that cooling the vacuum impregnation vessel before unloading can reduce inhalation exposure to about one-third. However, our data shows that installation of structural or technical risk management measures (RMM) did not always reduce the exposure as intended, and can even lead to increased exposure in adverse constellations. Dermal exposure was strongly affected by differences in the working procedures. Measurements performed during assembly of impregnated railway sleepers indicate that secondary exposure leads to lower inhalation, but similar dermal exposure compared to the impregnation processes. Also 1-OHP excretion rates are similar after impregnation process and after assembly of impregnated railway sleepers. Conclusion: Our recent data underlines that efficient reduction of the exposure resulting from impregnation with creosote requires sophisticated risk reduction strategies. Structural measures such as the enclosure of the loading area and technical measures like local exhaust ventilation shall be coordinated carefully with organisational measures and provision of personal protective equipment. The data presented here represents a broad bandwidth of current workplace situations in the creosote oil processing industry and is therefore suitable for risk assessment in related plants as well as under regulatory frameworks like the European Biocides Regulation. Each plant in this investigation was unique. Together they represent the whole width of this branch in Germany. Additionally, the number of plants and exposed workers is limited and relative low. Therefore, a comprehensive consideration and statistical analysis were not feasible.

Authors with CRIS profile

Involved external institutions

How to cite


Hebisch, R., Karmann, J., Schäferhenrich, A., Göen, T., Berger, M., Poppek, U., & Roitzsch, M. (2019). Inhalation and dermal exposure of workers during timber impregnation with creosote and subsequent processing of impregnated wood. Environmental Research.


Hebisch, Ralph, et al. "Inhalation and dermal exposure of workers during timber impregnation with creosote and subsequent processing of impregnated wood." Environmental Research (2019).

BibTeX: Download