Coal tars

Learn about coal tars and if they’re safe.

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About coal tars

Coal tars are made when coal is heated at some steel mill facilities. Coal tar refineries break the coal tars down to make coal tar pitch and other industrial chemicals.

Coal tar is used in:

  • roofing products 
  • aluminum production  
  • industrial furnace liners
  • some driveway sealants
  • some drugs, mainly in shampoos that treat skin conditions like dandruff

Canadians are exposed to coal tars when they’re:

  • released into the air during production
  • deposited into the soil during production and storage

They can also be found in water and house dust. This is mainly from the use and breakdown of driveway sealants that contain them.

Safety of coal tars 

We looked at  the potential health and environmental risks of coal tars through a draft chemical risk assessment.

We are proposing that exposure to coal tars may be harmful to our health.

However, it is safe and effective to use drugs containing coal tar for treating certain skin conditions. These drugs:

  • have a drug identification number (DIN) for authorized use in Canada
  • contain coal tar prepared in a different way than the coal tars used in industrial products

Ongoing protective measures

Canada is reviewing coal tars and will provide an update after we’ve completed our final assessment.

We will continue to monitor the use of coal tars in products sold in Canada. If a product proves to be a risk to humans, we will act quickly to protect Canadians.

Minimize your exposure to coal tars

To minimize your exposure to coal tars:

  • follow safety warnings and manufacturer’s directions
  • dispose of products containing the chemical properly
  • choose products, like driveway sealants, that don’t contain coal tar
  • contact the manufacturer if you are unsure the product contains these substances

You may be exposed to coal tars in the workplace. If this is a risk, you should consult with your employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about:

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