I have been alarmed recently at the number of people I’ve seen questioning the use of creosote treated wood (old railroad ties, telephone poles, etc.) in creating raised beds, or using them for animal pens. I am equally as alarmed at the amount of people saying to “go ahead and use them.” Let me be very clear, DO NOT EVER BRING ANYTHING TREATED WITH CREOSOTE ONTO YOUR PROPERTY! I work along side the USEPA, remediating Superfund sites, and creosote (old wood treating plants) is one of our biggest contaminants. It is highly volatile and carcinogenic. Bringing anything that has been treated with creosote onto your property can allow for degradation, runoff, and pollution of any surface water, groundwater, and soil that it comes into contact with. Creosote is particularly difficult to cleanup (it is a non-aqueous phase liquid or NAPL), and can remain intact for many years after contamination initially occurs. For removal and disposal from sites that we work on, creosote is considered a hazardous waste.
Please, if you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact your local at extension, waste management service, or an EPA representative. Again, please do not think that putting a liner down against the wood will make it safe to use, runoff and degradation will still occur. There are many alternatives to creosote treated wood, such as straw bales or old pallets for making raised beds. Do your research and find alternatives.